Archive for February 2014

The Bards of Wales: János Arany   3 comments

A Walesi Bárdok: The Bards of Wales

One of the best-known literary connections between Britain and Hungary comes in the shape of an epic ballad written in the mid-nineteenth century by the poet János Arany, who was a contemporary of Sándor Petőfi, the national poet of Hungary, who was killed in the Hungarian War of Independence of 1848-49. Arany was, indeed, a close friend of Petőfi, and his death in exile in Russia had a profound effect on Arany, as did the entire events of 1848-49. He later wrote a parabolic poem, Walesi Bárdok, about the Plantagenet King Edward’s crushing of Welsh Independence and his legendary mass murder of the country’s bards. It’s publication coincided with the visit of the Hapsburg Emperor Franz Joseph to Hungary, at a time when there was a sense of Austrian oppression among many Hungarians, and suppression of dissent. It was not safe for poets to write openly of their hatred of the Empire, so Arany used his knowledge of British history and literature to compose a masterly yet thinly-veiled attack on the Hapsburg monarchy, leaving his Hungarian readers in little doubt as to whom his scorn was directed.

Appropriately, János Arany was born on the day after St David’s Day, the festival of the patron saint of Wales, on 2 March, 1817, in Nagyszalonta, Bihár County, then in Royal Hungary, but now part of Romania. He was the youngest of ten children, only two of whom lived beyond childhood. At the time of his birth, his older sister Sára was already married and his parents, György Arany and Sára Megyeri, were 60 and 44 years old, respectively. János Arany learned to read and write early on, and was reported to read anything he could find, both in Hungarian and in Latin. Since his parents needed support early in Arany’s life, he began working at the age of 14 as an associate teacher.

From 1833 he attended the Reformed Church College of Debrecen where he studied German and French, though he quickly became tired of scholarly life, and temporarily joined an acting troupe. Later on, he worked in Nagyszalonta, Debrecen, and Budapest as teacher, newspaper editor, and in various clerical positions.

In 1840 he married Julianna Ercsey (1816–1885). They had two children, Julianna, whose early death by pneumonia devastated the poet, and Lászlo who also became a poet and a collector of Hungarian folklore..

In 1845, he won the competition of the Kisfaludy Társaság (a literary society) with his writing, “Az elveszett alkotmány” (“The lost constitution” in English).

After Toldi, one of his most famous works, was published, he and Sándor Petőfi became close friends (see their letters: To János Arany by Petőfi and Reply to Petőfi by Arany). Petőfi’s death in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-9 had a great impact on him.

He was employed as a teacher in Nagykőrös where the local museum is named after him.

Arany was elected a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1858. He was the secretary-general of the Academy from 1865. Also, he was elected director of the Kisfaludy Society, the greatest literary association of Hungary.

The early death of his daughter, Julianna in 1865 marked the beginning of Arany’s hiatus as a poet. He did not write any original pieces until the summer of 1877, when he began working on his poetic cycle entitled Őszikék. Őszikék is substantially different from the previous works of Arany, concerning themes like elderliness, or the imminence of death.

He translated three dramas of Shakespeare into Hungarian, and they are considered to be some of the greatest translations into Hungarian in history; he also helped other Hungarian translators with his comments. He revealed a great preference for the spiritual world and poetry of Britain. The stimulating effect of translating Shakespeare roused a vivid echo in Arány, and he succeeded in transplanting the dramas of the bard into a Hungarian worthy of him.

The epic poetry of János Arany presents the legendary and historical past of his nation. The Death of King Buda (1864), the first part of a projected Hun trilogy is one of the best narrative poems in Hungarian literature. The other parts of the trilogy (Ildikó, and Prince Csaba) are unfinished. Arany died in Budapest on October 22, 1882.

One of his most famous poems is A Walesi Bárdok’ (The Bards of Wales). Arany wrote this poem when the Austrian Emperor, Franz Joseph I, visited Hungary for the first time after the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution. Originally Arany was asked to write a poem to praise the Emperor but he wrote a piece concerning the campaigns of the Plantagenet King of England, Edward I, to subjugate the Welsh and trample over their culture. Arany was drawing a parallel here with Austria’s treatment of Hungary and the Hungarians.

János Arany is today considered as one of the greatest Hungarian poets beside Sándor Petőfi, Endre Ady, Miklós Radnoti and József Attila . His poems are among the most widely read works in Hungary, and children are required to memorise and recite A Walesi Bardok as part of the National Curriculum.

Here are some extracts, in a translation by Peter Zollman (1997), from The Bards of Wales (1857):


King Edward scales the hills of Wales

Upon his stallion.

“Hear my decree! I want to see,

My new dominion.

“Show me the yield of every field,

The grain, the grass, the wood!

Is all the land now moist and rich

With red rebellious blood?

And are the Welsh, the wretched Welsh,

A peaceful, happy folk?

I want them pleased, just like the beast

They harness in the yoke.”

“Sire, this jewel in the crown,

Your Wales is fair and good:

Rich is the yield of every

The grassland and the wood.

“And Sire, the Welsh, God’s gift, the Welsh,

So pleased they all behave!

Dark every hut, fearfully shut

And silent as the grave.”

King Edward scales the hills of Wales

Upon his stallion.

And where he rides dead silence hides

In his dominion.

He comes to high Montgomery

To banquet and to rest;

It falls on Lord Montgomery

To entertain the guest:

“Well then, you sirs, you filthy curs,

Who will now toast the king?

I want a bard to praise my deeds,

A bard of Wales to sing!”

They look askance with a furtive glance,

The noblemen of Wales,

Their cheeks turn white in deadly fright,

As crimson anger pales.

Deep silence falls upon the halls,

And lo, before their eyes,

They see an old man, white as snow,

An ancient bard to rise.

“I shall recite your glorious deeds

Just as you bid me, Sire,”

And death rattles in grim battles

As he touches the lyre.

“Our dead are plenty as the corn

When harvest is begun,

And as we reap and glean, we weep:

You did this, guilty one!”

“Off to the stake!” The King commands,

“This was churlishly hard.

Sing us, you there, a softer air,

You, young and courtly bard!”

“Maiden, don’t bear a slave! Mother,

Your babe must not be nursed!…”

A royal nod. He reached the stake

Together with the first.

But boldly and without a call

A third one takes the floor;

Without salute he strikes the lute,

His song begins to soar:

“The brave were killed, just as you willed,

Or languish in your gaols:

To hail your name or sing your fame

You’ll find no bard in Wales.

He may be gone, but his songs live on – 

The toast is: King beware!

You bear the curse and even worse

Of Welsh bards everywhere.”

“I’ll see to that! – Thunders the king –

You spiteful Welsh peasants!

The stake will toast you, every bard,

Who spurns my ordinance!”

Five hundred went singing to die,

Five hundred in the blaze,

But none would sing to cheer the king,

The loyal toast to raise. –

But over drums and piercing fifes,

Beyond the soldiers’ hails,

They swell the song, five hundred strong,

Those martyred bards of Wales.


George Szirtes et. al. (eds.) (1997), The Lost Rider: A bilingual anthology: The Corvina Book of Hungarian Verse. Budapest: Corvina.

Posted February 28, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Hungarian History, Hungary, Wales, Welsh language

Galeri Gwalia – A Gift for St David’s Day, 1st March   Leave a comment

What was What  and Who was Who in Wales – Text for Slides below


Where in the World is Wales?


Wales Today

Wales is on the western side of the island of Great Britain, sharing a land border with England to its East and a sea border with Ireland to the West. The largest part of it is located along two great peninsulas, one in the south and the other in the north, with a long bay stretching between them. To the south is the Severn Estuary, now crossed by two road bridges, forming giant gateways into the country, at the end of which you have to pay a toll. So, although you don’t need your passport to enter Wales, which is part of the United Kingdom, you do need to pay (if, like most people, you do so using these bridges in the south).

Wonderful Wales!

Wales has so much natural beauty that some people call it ‘God’s own country’! It also has a unique and very beautiful language of its own, Welsh, which some people call ‘the language of heaven!’ However, many other people would agree with the anglo-Welsh poet, Dannie Abse:

(see picture with text below)

From Peaks to People

Much of the country is covered by huge mountains, like those in Snowdonia in the north, which rise to over three thousand feet from the coast. You can see these best from the large island of Anglesey, off the north Wales coast. In other areas, there are more gentle hills and valleys, sometimes with thick forests and woods. There are a large number of rivers, including the River Severn, which begins in mid-Wales as a trickle of water and then flows into England. These fast-flowing streams from the hills and mountains were what powered the early development of industry in Wales, though it was the vast mineral wealth discovered beneath them over the centuries, especially coal which led to the country’s development into the power-house of the industrial revolution. These attracted millions of workers to the mining and iron-producing areas of south Wales, not just from rural Wales, but also from the neighbouring counties of England.

Present into Past

The Welsh people have a strong sense of their own identity as the first British people, going back to Roman times. They are proud of their past, which is the subject of many songs and poems, and is very evident in their unique traditions and customs, different from many of those found in England. The National Anthem, Hen Wlad fyng nghadau (Land of My Fathers) is full of phrases remembering the heroic figures who fought to maintain these independent traditions and customs, as well as their distinctive language, still spoken by more than one in five of the population of just under three million. The majority of the population live in the industrial south of the country, especially along the coastal plain with its major cities. There are also major centres of population in the north, especially in the north-east, which also became a centre of heavy industry in the last two centuries. The people living in mid and west Wales still work in agriculture and small industries and businesses, many of which depend on tourism, since Wales remains one of the most popular destinations for holiday-makers from the English cities, as well as from countries further away. 

Who were the Welsh?

Celts and Cymry

One of the earliest westward migrations in Europe, between about four thousand and two thousand BC, was made by peoples from Celtic tribes, speaking similar languages, whose descendants now live in Cornwall and Devon (south-west England), the Scottish highlands, Ireland, the Isle of Mann, Brittany (in modern-day France, hence the name Grande Bretagne) and Wales. These tribes, speaking something close to Scots and Irish Gaelic, became natives of the British Isles long before the English. In Welsh, the people of Wales call themselves Cymry, meaning ‘fellow-countrymen’, the name of their country is Cymru and their language is Cymraeg.


When the Romans successfully invaded what they called Britannia in 43 AD, adding it to their Empire, they quickly conquered most of the lowland areas of what we know today as England. However, they found it more difficult to take control of the ‘Celtic kingdoms’ in the north and west of the island. Caractacus, Caradoc in Welsh, the king of the Catavellauni, put up fierce resistance in battle until he was forced to flee further north, where he was arrested and handed over to Emperor Claudius in 51 AD.  He was so impressed by Caractacus’ courage in defeat that he allowed him to live out the rest of his days as a free man in Rome. In 60 AD, the Roman Governer of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus attacked the Druids of Anglesey, the religious leaders of the Celtic tribes, and defeated the Rebellion led by Boudica. However, it wasn’t until 78 AD that the Roman conquest of Anglesey, and therefore their control of the western tribes, was completed by General Agricola.

However, large parts of mainland Britain were never fully conquered, including what we know today as Scotland, and the Romans never tried to invade Ireland. That’s why, to this day, the Scots and Irish Gaelic languages contain very few words used by the Romans, in their Latin language. The forts built by the occupying army, including Caerleon and Caerdydd (Cardiff), were small pockets of Roman culture set in uncertain or hostile territory. The native population continued to live much as it had always done. Some Britons traded with the forts and even settled there, but most ignored the Romans, whose main interest was in extracting mineral wealth from the hills. They did little to establish towns, which slowly grew around their forts, and most of the native population stayed on their farms. When the Romans began to withdraw from Britain in AD 410, four centuries of trade and settlement had left its mark on the remaining tribes, including their languages, which became Romano-British, but within a generation they separated into competing tribal kingdoms once more.

Cymraeg is all that remains of a written language which was spoken and written by the Romano-British who lived in several kingdoms from Cornwall to Cambria (Wales), to Cumbria (northern England) and on to Strathclyde (Scotland). It is from the last of these territories that the earliest known writings were made, dating from the sixth century. Welsh is very different from Scots and Irish Gaelic, but is similar to Breton, so much so that the traditional Breton onion sellers who used to bicycle through the Welsh valleys in the summer were able to communicate with their Welsh-speaking customers.

Britons, Saxons and Vikings

It was the invading Saxons of the sixth century who used their word wealas to describe the people whom they made ‘foreigners’ in their own land, though the idea that there was a mass migration into the west is a myth. The chieftains and warriors may have retreated to their forts in the hills and mountains, but recent genetic tests have shown that most of the farmers remained on their land, and mixed with the newcomers, gradually adapting to Saxon manners, customs and languages, and adopting some of them. The process was two-way. Many British place names continued to be used in the Saxon territories, including Afon or Avon, for river, and cwm or combe, for valley. However, eventually Anglo-Saxon languages overwhelmed the native British.

However, the Cambrian mountains did give the retreating ruling families and their scribes a means to protect their language and culture from Anglo-Saxon influence for centuries. Despite the construction of a dike, or ditch, by the Mercian King Offa, mainly to discourage sheep-rustling, he was more interested in securing his dominant position over the other Saxon kingdoms, and the Welsh were more at risk from attacks from the sea, by Irish and Scandinavian raiders. British monks recorded stories about the heroic battles fought by chieftains against the Saxons, one of whom, Artorius, or Arthur, became the basis for the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table of the English literature of later centuries. These monks also wrote down the stories and legends connected with the British saints, including David and Patrick.

There was no common form of ‘English’ at this time, but rather three different Saxon languages or dialects, Northumbrian (the root of Scottish English), Mercian (which eventually became the dominant form), and West Saxon. It wasn’t until around AD 1,000 that the word Englaland began to be used, though the Anglii (Angles) themselves were a minority group among the settlers, as were the Jutes who settled in Kent. The Welsh word for the English people is Saeson or Saxon, and the English language is Saesneg. A fragment of an early Welsh folk song tells of a young man going “with a heart like lead” to live in “the land of the Saxons.”  However, the Anglo-Saxon language was far from being a standardised, written language, even in the time of Cnut, the Danish King of England, and Edward the Confessor. Latin, together with Christianity, had been brought into the Saxon kingdoms through Northumbria by multi-lingual British monks like Cuthbert and Cedd (Chad), as well as by St Augustine through Kent in AD 597. It remained the standard written language throughout the British Isles.

Norman Conquest? Broken yet unbowed

Following their Conquest of England from 1066-80, The Norman kings placed the security of the Welsh border in the hands of ‘marcher’ barons who were allowed to conquer new lands in Wales. They built castles and monasteries in south Wales, giving ‘manors’ for rent to both Anglo-Norman and Welsh tenants. They encouraged Anglo-Norman settlement of the countryside and created new, fortified towns such as Swansea. English place-names were used for new settlements, such as Fernhill and Oxwich, which grew next to Welsh villages. Meanwhile, Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, expanded his territory into Powys. However, the Norman kings left the native rulers of north and south Wales in place, provided they paid him homage. However, when Rhys ap Tewdwr was killed by the Normans in 1093, they established lordships over Gower, Kidwelly and Pembroke.


From the beginning of the twelfth century, the Norman lords began to build permanent stone castles. Kidwelly Castle began as a walled enclosure, to which round towers and an outer wall were added in the thirteenth century and a large gatehouse was added after 1300. Edward I saw castles in the eastern Mediterranean during his crusade (1270-2) and introduced the ‘concentric’ design into Britain in the 1280s. It relied on a ring of walls and towers around an open bailey, or courtyard, with a strengthened gatehouse. His Welsh castles at Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech are classic examples of this design. As well as encircling Wales with these castles, some, like Conwy, provided a good way of setting up new towns under his control, within the outer walls. However, the cost of his eight castles in Wales almost bankrupted him.


Even at the beginning of the industrial revolution, the vast majority of the people still spoke Welsh. Despite the anglicising effect of intermarriage, education and industrialisation, the persistence of the Welsh language and culture is a remarkable story. At the beginning of the last century, two-thirds of the population was bilingual, and at its end one fifth claimed to be Welsh speakers. At the beginning of this century, Welsh is used in education, with every child learning it to sixteen, and it has equal status with English in law and administration. Road signs throughout the country are bilingual and the Welsh television channel is popular and successful. In the 1980s the British Government, so often hated by nationalists, made it its policy to support and subsidise the Welsh language. By contrast, English writing in Wales did not receive the same level of subsidy through the Welsh Arts Council. The strength of the Welsh language culture has also influenced the development of Anglo-Welsh language and culture. Actors such as Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Ioan Gruffudd and Michael Sheen have a rich, spoken English which combines the perfect accuracy of standard, or received pronunciation, with the fluency of melody, lilt and resonance supplied by Welsh, with rounded vowels where most ‘Anglo-Saxon’ actors would flatten them.

Welsh also has a different word order, with the noun coming before the main verb, or the adjective coming after the noun. For example, a woman from the valleys, talking about a young man who had died, said “Pity it was that he died so early”. This was a direct translation of the Welsh structure into English. The (ungrammatical) use of the  question tag ‘isn’t it?’ or the phrase ‘look you’ are further examples of direct translation in colloquial Welsh speech. Some Welsh words are used directly in English, like ‘cariad’ for ‘darling’ or ‘love’ and ‘cwtsh’ for ‘hug’. You can also tell an Anglo-Welsh writing style by their use of hyperbole (exaggeration). This stems from the tradition of Welsh bards (poets) who recited to the warriors to work up their ‘hwyl’, or ecstasy, before going into battle.

When was Wales? The Princes and the People

Llywelyn the Great (1172-1240) was a Prince of Gwynedd in north Wales and eventually ruled over most of north and mid-Wales. By a combination of war and diplomacy he dominated Wales for 40 years. He was sole ruler of Gwynedd by 1200 and made a treaty with King John of England that year. Llywelyn’s relations with John remained good for the next ten years. He married John’s natural daughter Joan in 1205, and when John arrested the prince of Powys in 1208, Llywelyn took the opportunity to annex southern Powys. In 1210, relations deteriorated, and John invaded Gwynedd in 1211. Llywelyn was forced to seek terms and to give up all lands east of the River Conwy, but was able to recover them the following year in alliance with the other Welsh princes. He allied himself with the barons who forced John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. By 1216, he was the dominant power in Wales, holding a council at Aberdyfi that year to apportion lands to the other princes.

Following King John’s death, Llywelyn concluded the Treaty of Worcester with his successor, Henry III, in 1218. During the next fifteen years, Llywelyn was frequently involved in fights with Marcher lords and sometimes with the king, but also made alliances with several major powers in the Marches. The Peace of Middle in 1234 marked the end of Llywelyn’s military career, as the agreed truce of two years was extended year by year for the remainder of his reign. He maintained his position in Wales until his death in 1240 and was succeeded by his son Dafydd ap Llewelyn.

There is a famous legend about Llewelyn the Great, his son and his dog, Gelert, associated with Beddgelert in Snowdonia:

Prince Llewelyn had a dog named Gelert. It had been given to him by his father-in-law and from the first the Prince and the dog were firm friends.In the hunt there was no dog so brave and fearless as Gelert. Yet within Llewelyn’s palace no dog was so gentle and affectionate.

One fine morning in early autumn Prince Llewelyn was going hunting…Llewelyn walked into the midst of the hounds.

“Don and Juno, Seren and Morwen  are here” he cried, “but where is Gelert?”

The huntsman blew his horn again at the prince’s command, but no Gelert answered the call. Llewelyn did not enjoy his ride that day. When evening came he was glad to ride back to his castle. As he rode through the gateway Gelert sprang forward to greet him. Llewelyn leapt from his horse to pat the dog, but he drew back…for Gelert’s jaws were dripping with blood. Llewelyn strode into his castle in search of his little son. The little prince was often in Gelert’s charge, and Llewelyn feared the dog had done some harm. He leapt up the stone staircase…and ran into his little son’s room, Gelert padding after him.

(picture with caption below)

He saw that the walls and floor were covered with bloodstains. The child’s cradle had been overturned. The baby prince was nowhere to be seen.

“Little son!” Llewelyn called, but there was no answering cry.

 He raised the broken cradle, but the child was not beneath it. He searched the room, but failed to find…the young prince. Llewelyn saw the dog standing near.

Llewelyn drew his sword and thrust it up to the hilt into the dog’s body. Gelert moaning, and looking sadly at Llewelyn, sank down on the floor and died. Llewelyn cried out in sorrow as he saw the dog die. The prince’s cry was answered by another cry, faint, but loud enough to reach a father’s ear. In two strides Llewelyn was at a couch in the far corner of the room.

There, safely hidden, he found his young son…Behind the couch lay the body of a wolf.

“Alas, brave Gelert! But for you, my baby son would have been devoured by this fierce wolf.”

Llewelyn mourned deeply. He thought of what he could best do to preserve the memory of his brave dog. A great grave was dug and a monument was placed over the body. Llewelyn hung his horn and sceptre there as a tribute of respect. The grave can be seen there today at the place called the grave of Gelert – Bedd Gelert.

If Wales can be described as a nation in any sense in the late thirteenth century, it was certainly a divided one, divided into four parts; the marcher lordships established by the Anglo-Normans, mainly along the border and in the southern coastal plain, and the native princedoms of Gwynedd in the north, Deheubarth in the west, and Powys in the middle of the country. There was no overall kingdom, and the rivalry between the three princedoms was a cause or increasing concern to the English crown. So, in 1267, Henry III recognised Llewelyn ap Gruffudd of Gwynedd as ‘prince of Wales’, ruling over the three native princedoms. However, Llewelyn did not want to accept the overall right of the Norman ‘Plantagenet’ kings to control Wales. He took advantage of their problems with the barons to expand his territories at the expense of both the marcher lords and the rival Welsh princes.

So in 1277 Edward I began a campaign to bring Llewelyn under control. Marching his army into north Wales, he quickly seized Fint, Rhuddlan and Deganwy, forcing Llewelyn into a negotiated peace. He was forced to surrender these lands between Chester and the River Conwy, which Edward then used to create a new series of powerful marcher lordships. Edward also imposed a crippling fine on Llewelyn, which he had no chance of ever raising. Edward then waived this fine, demonstrating the control that he now had over the prince of Wales. However, in 1282, his brother Dafydd began a revolt against the Plantagenets, annoyed by his lack of reward for supporting the English crown. Edward then launched a full-scale war of conquest from the lands he now controlled in the north. He took control of the whole coast, including Anglesey, pushing Llewelyn into Snowdonia. Attempting to break out to the south, he was ambushed and killed at a bridge near Builth Wells. Edward’s troops then pushed into Gwynedd, capturing Prince Dafydd in June 1283.

The Conquest was then completed by the remarkable string of castles built by Edward at Flint, Rhuddlan, Conwy, Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Criccieth, Harlech, Aberystwyth and Builth. They stood both as bastions of military might and symbols of Plantagenet rule. However, the military occupation of Gwynedd  was followed up by a constitutional settlement in 1284 imposing the Statute of Wales, which placed the former principality was placed under direct jurisdiction of English law. Further revolts were ruthlessly put down by 1295. The King then went on a great circular march through Wales to reinforce his authority and then made his eldest son as Prince of Wales in Caernarfon Castle in 1301. This was a reminder that the rule of the native princes were over, and the only important Welsh family to keep their lands were the former rulers of Powys. Other Welsh lands were ‘parcelled up’ and granted to English lords. Wales has remained a ‘Principality’ ever since, though gradually including all the lands west of the border with England. The current Prince of Wales, HRH Prince Charles, was invested with the title in Caernarfon Castle in 1969, despite attempts by extreme nationalists to disrupt the ceremony.

Land of my Fathers

Welsh people are proud of their country for a variety of reasons. Many regret the loss of independence and imposed rule, as they see it, from a foreign country, though they now have their own government in Cardiff. For the large minority who speak Welsh, a majority in many of the western and northern towns and villages, the Royal National Eisteddfod is an important institution. It is held in a different place each year, announced a year and a day before. The Archdruid of the Gorsedd of the Bards presides over it and the mythology of the druidic ancestry symbolises that Wales is always ‘The Land of my Fathers’ and always, as the National Hymn goes on, a land of bards, singers and soldiers who spilled their blood for freedom.

A century after the Plantagenet Conquest of Wales was complete, a Welsh nobleman named Owen Glendwr lost a legal dispute with an English marcher lord. He turned to violence and his supporters declared him to be Prince of Wales, since he was descended from the princes of Powys. In June 1401 he defeated an English Army in open battle and by 1404 had succeeded in driving the English lords out of Wales. He then set up an independent Welsh Parliament in Machynlleth in mid-Wales. In 1407, Prince Henry, later to become Henry V, began the re-conquest of Wales. Using the English Navy to stop French ships bringing guns to the rebels, he then took the towns and castles back one at a time, clearing the surrounding lands of Glyndwr’s supporters before moving on to the next town. However, in 1412 Glyndwr led a successful ambush of the English Army at Brecon. However, he then vanished into the hills, never to be seen again. For these brief years under his rule, Wales became an independent country for the first and only time in its history.

A Nation Once Again?

A descendant of Glyndwr, Henry Tudor, finally defeated the Plantagenets at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and again at Stoke in 1487, ending the Wars of the Roses. Henry VII was Welsh-speaking, as were his two sons, Arthur and Henry. With his accession to the English throne, and with his son Arthur as Prince of Wales, it looked like the Welsh were on top again. One observer wrote that they “may now be said to have recovered their former independence, for the most wise and fortunate Henry VII is a Welshman”.

However, Wales had been ruled for centuries by Kings of England with no clear legal basis. It wasn’t until the Tudors that the relationship was codified. Between 1535 and 1542, Henry VIII passed a series of laws that established a formal system of government over Wales. The local lords put in place under the Plantagenets were stripped of their powers, which passed to the government.  The marcher lordships were abolished, but Shrewsbury remained, in all but name, the administrative capital of the whole ‘region’ of the united realm. The Council of the Marches was responsible for maintaining law and order both in Wales and the English border shires, until it was abolished in the 1640s. For the first time, Welsh MPs were able to sit in the Westminster Parliament, and the border was legally established. Laws that discriminated against the Welsh were repealed and the counties of Wales were put on an equal basis as those of England. However, under the Act of Union of 1536, English became the official language to be used in all legal and government documents, though the majority of the people remained monolingual Welsh-speakers.

One of the results of these changes was that the language of the ruling classes became English, but they at least ensured that justices of the peace and the men running the shires were Welsh, so that Wales was not simply seen as an extension of England. Even Monmouthshire, which was fully incorporated into England by the Act of Union, was eventually returned to Wales in 1972. Previous to the Act of Union, there were frequent border disputes like the one that led to the Glendower Rebellion. The Welsh were often falsely accused of stealing cattle or sheep, as in the English nursery rhyme, Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief, Taffy came to my house and stole a leg of beef. No doubt as many Welsh sheep got transferred across the indistinct border after a night raid in the opposite direction across Offa’s dike.

Like her father, Elizabeth Tudor was also brought up speaking Welsh, and, as Elizabeth I, was the last monarch to have learnt the language. She also had a number of important Welsh scientists, scholars and explorers at her court. Her family’s ancient Celtic Christian roots had become even more important after the Reformation. The Pope had excommunicated her, and she was constantly threatened by plots, rebellions and invasions. She claimed her right to be Supreme Governor of the Church through reference to the saints and chieftains of the ancient Britons, and the coronation oath still contains this reference.The Welsh adopted Jesus College, Oxford, founded in 1571, and the Inns of Court in London as the ways to complete their education.

Members of the Welsh elite were enthusiastic Renaissance people, building houses and art collections comparable with collections anywhere else in Europe. They were also keen supporters of the Reformation. Oliver Cromwell was so named because his ancestors had changed their name from Williams during the Reformation. Richard Williams was the grandson of a Welshman who had followed Henry Tudor’s red dragon standard to the Battle of Bosworth, and then settled at Putney, where he married his son Morgan to the niece of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s minister. Richard helped his uncle-in-law to suppress the monasteries and was rewarded with former church lands in Huntingdonshire. He took his uncle’s name, and three generations later, in 1599, Oliver Cromwell, God’s Englishman, was born in a town house in Huntingdon, otherwise he might have been known as God’s Welshman. The Cromwells were certainly strong admirers of Good Queen Bess, especially when the Scottish Stuart kings became unpopular. It is easy to forget that Scotland was seen as a hostile, foreign country when Oliver Cromwell was growing up and that it only became united with England, Wales and Ireland in 1707. Oliver’s favourite daughter was named Elizabeth, no doubt after her mother, but also after ‘Queen Elizabeth, of famous memory’.

The Protestant Reformation took root in Wales, with Welsh translations of the creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer coming out as early as 1547. These were soon followed by translations of the Prayer Book and the Scriptures. The first Bible in Welsh was published in 1588, contributed greatly to the survival of the Welsh language. Catholicism survived, with St Winifred’s Well at Holywell in north Wales remaining an important shrine and centre of pilgrimage to today. Although most of the Welsh people enthusiastically embraced Protestantism, it was Nonconformity and Methodism which by the eighteenth century became more popular than Anglicanism. There was a close relationship between literacy and Methodism in the latter part of the century. In Caernafonshire, those areas with the highest attendance at Gruffydd Jones’ circulating schools between 1741 and 1777 were also those with the most Methodist chapels by 1800.

Though it was excluded from administration, the position Welsh gained as the language of religion helped to ensure its survival. Grammar School education was in English, but basic literacy in Welsh became widespread in the eighteenth century, due largely to the efforts of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, Gruffydd Jones and others, who sought to ensure that the people could read the Bible for themselves. There was a growing market for Welsh language books, which led to the establishment of the first Welsh printing presses in the early eighteenth century. Welsh medieval texts were collected and preserved. This enabled a Europe-wide rediscovery of the Celtic past and identification with its Celtic past helped the Welsh to assert their different identity from the English.

Interest in the bardic traditions was reawakened in the late eighteenth century and, under the direction of Iolo Morganwg, eisteddfodau re-emerged as vehicles for regional and national cultural activities. Druidism, long extinct, was revived through colourful, if invented, ceremonies. Celtomania went some way to convincing the English that the Welsh had something to offer the partnership.

Until the mid nineteenth century Wales remained an agrarian country, specialising in cattle-rearing, dairy products and cloth manufacture. The countryside was gradually enclosed and deforested, but settlements remained small and scattered, with farmers maintaining upland summer houses and lowland winter homes. Market and textile-manufacturing towns in south and mid-Wales became increasingly important in the eighteenth century.

The Welsh Assembly and Government

In 1979, a Referendum on the setting up of a Welsh Assembly saw the proposal defeated by a margin of four to one across Wales as a whole. It was nearly twenty years later, in 1998, that a second Referendum led to a narrow ‘Yes’ vote. Since the elections that followed, there has been a Welsh Assembly meeting in Cardiff, with the Welsh Government having responsibility over ‘devolved matters’, including education and health care.

The Valleys – When Coal was King

(see pictures below)

The history of Wales from the mid-nineteenth to the late twentieth century was dominated by the growth and decline of the coal industry, and their social and economic consequences. Due to the demand for Welsh steam coal to power the industrial revolution and Britain’s expanding Empire, new and vibrant communities, with a unique life-style and culture, grew up in previously unpopulated areas of the two coalfields in north and south Wales. At its high point in 1913, the coal industry employed 250,000 men and women.

The Rhondda Valleys

The valleys of south Wales span out across the hinterland from the coastal ports and cities of Newport, Cardiff and Swansea like the fingers of an outstretched hand from Monmouthshire to Carmarthenshire. The best-known valleys are those of the Rhondda Fach and Fawr (‘little’ and ‘great’) in central Glamorgan. By 1906, people were moving into these valleys at a rate second in the world only to those arriving in the northern United States. They came from rural Wales, so that Wales as a whole retained its Welsh population at a time when other parts of Britain and Ireland were experiencing mass emigration. At the same time, many workers moved in from the English counties on the other side of the River Severn, especially from Somerset and Gloucestershire, both miners and farm-workers. Long terraces of houses were built in rows along the steep hillsides overlooking the pits and colliery winding-towers.

These were societies dominated by one industry, Coal, though there were also iron and steel foundries at both the ‘heads’ and ‘feet’ of the valleys. From the age of eleven or twelve, then fourteen, most boys started work with their fathers underground, working eleven-hour shifts. They were called ‘trappers’, because they would take care of the doors on the tramways, opening and closing them for the horse-pulled trams full of coal, while their fathers would cut the coal at the coal ‘face’ using picks, loading the trams using shovels. They were called colliers. Sometimes the boys would push or pull the trucks themselves, so they were called ‘hauliers’. Their wages were often decided by how much coal they and their fathers could get to the surface by the end of each shift. Often the seams of coal were very thin and could only be worked by the colliers lying on their sides, and conditions were hot, ‘sticky’ (humid) and wet, with water running through the rock. At the same time, there was a lot of dust, from both the coal and the rock, so miners developed, and died early, from the effects of lung diseases like pneumoconiosis and silicosis. The amount of dust in the atmosphere would sometimes result in serious, spontaneous fires. Gases were released from the rock and, since explosives had to be used to blast open new faces, there were frequent disasters in which hundreds and thousands of miners were killed. The worst disaster happened at the Senghenydd Colliery in 1913, when 430 colliers were killed. Even a spark from the tools used was enough to cause a major explosion, and roof-falls were also common, resulting in miners being buried alive or suffocating. The miners ate and went to the toilet underground in the same places underground.

Coming home was difficult because the moleskin trousers would be stiff with the mixture of sweat, dust and mud as they dried in the summer or froze in winter. The boys were so exhausted that they fell asleep over dinner, then they would have to wait their turn to wash in front of a zinc bath in front of the fire. The women would be continually boiling water, since there could be as many as eight or nine men and boys working in the colliery. While the men were at work, the women would be continually fighting a losing battle to get the dust and dirt out of the house, as well as out of the clothes. The eldest daughter would stay at home to help her mother, while the others would find work as maids, in shops, or sewing. Social life revolved around the pubs, the miners’ clubs, or ‘institutes’ which included libraries and theatre halls, and the nonconformist chapels, where there were social and cultural events on every night of the week, as well as services on Sundays. The children would also go to Sunday schools, which organised picnics and ‘outings’ in the summer. Many men belonged to Male Voice Choirs, which regularly competed against each other, and there were also Community Singing events, Gymanfa Ganu, in which whole chapels and colliery villages would take part.

In 1910-11 there were a series of strikes in the Cambrian Combine, in which many Rhondda miners worked. The company refused to increase wages, although they were making huge profits at that time. There was little strike pay at that time, and poor relief was restricted to those who lived in rented property or were homeless. The miners organised soup kitchens, communal lunches, and raised money for them by singing in the wealthier towns in south Wales. There were some riots and violent incidents at Tonypandy in 1910 when policemen from England were brought in to keep the miners ‘in line’.  Churchill, then Home Secretary, sent soldiers to south Wales, though they weren’t used. In 1926 the mineowners tried to cut the miners’ wages and locked them out of the collieries when their Trade Union refused to accept this. Other Trade Unions decided to call a General Strike throughout Britain in support, but this only lasted eight days. However, the miners stayed out for six months before they were starved back to work. Others left the valleys for good to find work in London, Birmingham, Coventry and Oxford, where car manufacture and electrical engineering were expanding, mainly concentrated in the Midlands. To begin with there was a trickle of single, independent men, but this was soon followed by whole families.

Valley people

Wage-cuts, lay-offs and the forceful use of police during the 1910s and1920s led to the the development of strong traditions of trades unionism and socialist politics throughout the south Wales Coalfield, especially in the Rhondda.

However, just as Wales had benefited from the ‘boom’ time in the coal industry before the First World War, so it suffered more than any other other region from the slump in world markets for coal, iron and steel. Average unemployment reached 31% by the end of the thirties. In the valleys, however, this figure often reached more than two thirds of the working population in particular towns and villages and by the 1930s only Durham had more people on poor relief. Even those in work in 1931 were on wages which were far worse than they had been five years earlier. At first, the National Government tried to persuade people to leave the valleys for work in England, believing that anything they did to make life better for the poor and unemployed would only have a negative effect on migration.

However, by 1934, when Britain as a whole was recovering from the Depression, the government decided to try to tackle the widespread unemployment and poverty in south Wales by providing incentives to industries to move into the area. Most of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire became part of the ‘Special Area’. However, the effects of these measures were slow to develop, and inadequate in scale. At the same time, the effects of the high levels of poverty had become devastating, especially the accompanying levels of disease and malnutrition, as well as infant and maternal deaths. The incidence of tuberculosis was 130% above the natural average. Added to this, the results of outward migration meant that the number of Welsh-speakers, which had increased and then remained stable over the previous decades, now went into decline. Local shops and services were no longer viable, and shopkeepers committed suicide rather than collect the money they were owed by customers who had no money to pay for essential food and clothing for their families. Others sold up and left for England to join the younger miners in their families. They were often deacons and elders in chapels, which were therefore now losing the leaders of their already dwindling congregations.

Between 1920 and 1940 Wales lost about 450,000 people, permanently, as a result of migration, 90% of whom were from the three counties of Glamorgan, Monmouthshire and Breconshire. Since about 10% of migrants failed to settle in the ‘new industry’ towns and cities of the Midlands and the south East, the number of those experiencing ‘the exodus’ may have been well over a quarter of a million, a figure equivalent to one in five of the people of Wales in 1921. Very few of these went with the bribes offered by the Ministry of Labour, or under their control. Most of those who found their way to Cowley, Coventry and Birmingham did so with the help and organisation of their own families, or the friends they knew through Rugby and sporting clubs, chapels, brass bands, choirs, and other cultural institutions. It therefore wasn’t just the individuals and families who moved, but many of the organisations which they had set up in the valleys, and now transferred to the new places they moved to. Membership of these traditional Welsh cultural institutions helped the migrants to settle and integrate. Fifty years later, the Welsh immigrants to Oxford, Birmingham and Coventry still retained both the accents of the particular valleys in which they grew up and began work, as well as their active membership of the remaining clubs and societies with Welsh origins and associations in these cities. Many of them had served in prominent positions in voluntary organisations and civic life, even becoming Lord Mayors. Among their children, there were a significant array of local sporting and musical ‘celebrities’.

Valley Sheep

(see picture below)

The Rhondda and other south Wales valleys are famous for their sheep. Having lived on the hillsides above the rows of terraced houses for many generations, they seem to have developed genetic characteristics which enable them to jump over six-foot fences and all many of flowers (including roses), as well as grass. This may be because of the polluted nature of much of the vegetation, resulting from more than a century of coalmining and the soot produced by processing plants, pit-head chimney stacks and blast furnaces. In the Aberdare Valley, for example, the grass is often black. When the sheep eat this grass, their stomachs swell even more than usual, especially in hot summers. The shepherds and farmers have to puncture their stomachs with knitting needles in order to release the accumulated gas, or they can die painfully, sometimes rolling down the steep hillsides onto the roads below or, worse still, onto the bonnets of passing cars. The wandering, individualist nature of these sheep (they have been known to visit all types of shops, including wool shops) means that the farmers have a difficult task shepherding them in. They have become the subject of modern legends, their dramatic abilities even described on radio and displayed on TV! They have even been known to fall through the flat roofs of schools in the valleys, right in the middle of examination sessions!

Saint David’s City

The Cathedral

(see power-point pictures)

David was born in the year 500, probably the son of Sandde, a famous prince, and Non, who was also a Cymric saint. He grew up in the Christian faith and became an important churchman, taking part in great conferences and assemblies. He became Primate, or Archbishop, of Wales. When he was thirty he founded a monastery at Glyn Rhosyn which was recognised as the centre of the Church in Wales. This became St David’s (Ty Dewi – ‘David’s House’) where the small cathedral city now stands, the smallest city in the UK. He founded many churches throughout Wales, 53 of which have his name. By the time of the Norman Conquest of England, St David’s had become an important centre of pilgrimage.

The Saint(s)

Patrick, the monk who introduced Christianity to Ireland was, in fact, an escaped British slave. He was born in late Roman times, about AD 389, the son of a small landowner at Banwen in Glamorgan, who brought him up as a Christian. When he was sixteen a band of Irish raiders captured him and took him back to Ireland where he was made to look after the sheep of an Irish chieftain in Antrim. It was during these six years of captivity that he decided to become a monk. He escaped by ship to the coast of Brittany, where he trained in a monastery, returning to his home in Britain, before beginning his mission to Ireland. Returning to Auxerre, he was ordained there, before sailing back to Ireland to begin his legendary mission.

As with Patrick, many legends have grown up around the name of Welsh patron saint. One of them tells how when David and his monks first arrived in the Glyn Rhosyn area, it was terrorised by a bandit named Boca. He was overcome by David’s personality and became converted to Christianity, although it took David longer to convert his wife! Another story tells of how when David prayed for fresh water a well sprang up at his feet. This useful miracle was repeated at several other sites, including Ffynnon Feddyg. A further tale describes a hill rising up under the saint so that all could see and hear him preaching.The name of the village where this happened, Llanddewibrefi, also bears his name: The Church of St David.

Symbols and Celebrations

1st March

St. David’s Day (Dydd Gwyl Dewi)  is the first of the four national days, or patron saints’ days in the British calendar. Saint David (Dewi Sant in Welsh) is the patron saint of Wales. David and his followers lived quietly in Wales, didn’t eat meat and drank only water. David became a famous teacher and an important monk in The Celtic Church. He died in 589, probably on 1st March when, according to legend, a host of angels bore his spirit to heaven with great singing to his glory and honour. 1st March is not a holiday, but there are special concerts and competitions called eisteddfodau all over the country on this day.

(see the separate power-point on St David’s Day)

The Red Dragon

(see pictures below)

The dragon is a popular mythical beast in the folklore of the British Isles as a whole. In fact, the first dragon standard to be flown in battle, according to dark-age records, was the white dragon of the first Saxons to land on the eastern coasts of Britain around AD 450.

The Red Dragon (Y Ddraig Goch) of Wales comes from the The Mabinogion, the cultural epic of Wales, which tells the story of the battle between the white dragon and the red dragon for control of Britain. According to the tale, the pained shrieks of the fighting dragons caused women to miscarry and crops to fail.  The British king Lludd consulted his wise brother Llefelys, who told him to dig a pit and fill it with mead (a strong liquor made with honey).  When the dragons drank the mead and fell asleep, Lludd imprisoned them in the pit.

The story is continued by the ninth-century monk Nennius in his Historia Britonum. Centuries later, King Vortigern tried to build a castle at Dinas Emrys, but each night the walls collapsed. A boy who grew up to be the wizard Merlin told the king about the two Dragons, who had continued their battle underground. The dragons were released and continued their fight until the Red Dragon triumphed. Later, in his History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100-1155) wrote that this victory was a sign of the coming of King Arthur, also known as Arthur Pendragon. In Welsh, Pen Draig means ‘Chief Dragon’. Nennius also wrote about the legendary Artorius and his battles against the Saxons, in which he halted the Saxon advance at the Battle of Badon Hill in about AD 515 (see the extracts from Gildas and Nennius in PPP).

Over the next thousand years since the Arthurian ‘period’, many British kings used the dragon standard. The legendary seventh-century king Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon of Gwynedd used the Red Dragon as his standard. Alfred The Great flew the White Dragon when his army defeated the Danes at the Battle of Edington in 878. Both Athelstan and Harold II also flew it, and in 1191 Richard the Lionheart carried a dragon standard on the Third Crusade. Henry V flew the Dragon standard at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, in which large numbers of Welsh archers fought. Henry VII, who claimed Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon as his ancestor, raised the Red Dragon on the Tudor white and green colours, giving rise to the Welsh flag still flown today.

Leeks and Daffodils

(see pictures)

Wales has two national emblems – the leek and the daffodil. The leek is a herb of the onion family, and it was worn as a battle emblem by the Britons against the Saxons, and again by Welsh soldiers at Poitiers in the Hundred Years’ War. In legend, the leek was said to have the property of carrying its wearer, uninjured, through battle. It became the official emblem of the Welsh Guards Regiment, worn on St David’s Day. Over recent decades the leek has given way to the daffodil, seen as David’s flower, appropriately blooming around 1st March. The name is a corruption of Asphodel, which grew on the banks of the Acheron, delighting the spirits of the dead. It also grew, according to legend, on the Elysian fields, which may be why they are placed on graves. In Wales, if you are the first to find a daffodil in bloom in your village, they say that you will have more gold than silver for a year.

Sport: Fields of Dreams

Gareth Edwards was the greatest Rugby player in the world during his career, which spanned fifteen seasons. Still a student when he gained his first cap for Wales against France, this was the start of a run of fifty-three consecutive international appearances. He captained his country thirteen times from his position behind the scrum (scrum-half).  During his career he helped Wales to win seven Championships, five ‘Triple Crowns’ (victories over the other British countries) and three ‘Grand-Slams’ (victories in all four matches). He also scored what most experts still agree was the finest ‘try’ (touch-down) of all time when appearing for the invitation Barbarian team in 1973. He also toured Australia and New Zealand with the British Lions three times, also playing against the visiting All Black team in 1971, the Lions first ever series win against New Zealand.

Although Rugby is the most popular team sport, Wales has two Premier League teams, Cardiff City (‘the bluebirds’) and Swansea City (‘the Swans’). Cardiff have just been promoted to the Premiership after a gap of fifty years outside the top division. Swansea had a great team in the 1980s, and won promotion again two seasons ago. They finished high enough last season to win a place in European competition.

Eisteddfodau and Shows

The Royal Welsh Show

This is held annually in Builth Wells, and attracts participants from all over the British Isles. The whole of rural life is there, from combine harvesters to prize bulls and sheep-shearing.

The International Eisteddfod

Held in Llangollen, a north Wales town, in July each year, this event draws participants and competitors from all over the world. Its folk-dance competitions are particularly colourful, and singers can use any language, making it open to all.

Writers of Wales

 (pictures below)

Dai Smith is a historian and writer who was born in Tonypandy in the Rhondda in 1945. He is the son of a Yorkshire-man and a Welsh-speaking woman, who grew up speaking English. “You did, unless you were the son of the manse” he told one reporter. Sons of the manse are bogey figures in the new Wales which began to emerge in the 1980s when he was doing most of his writing. He remembers the sense of community that was left over from the Depression: “You couldn’t survive as a family in the Depression. You were self-sufficient (only) as a street.” He also remembers the street parties and the the local jazz concerts. But even then, in the ‘fag-end’ of the tradition he describes in his books, it was not a ‘parochial’ society. It looked outwards.

After school in Barry he read history at Oxford and then studied for a further degree in Modern Literature at Columbia University, New York. He returned to south Wales in 1971 to lecture in history, researching for his doctorate on the south Wales miners at University College, Swansea. In 1976 he became a lecturer in the History of Wales at University College, Cardiff, returning to live in the valleys, in Pontypridd. He returned to a Wales in which there was an enormous upsurge in the writing of Welsh history, but in which industrial Wales was largely ignored. The Valleys were in decline, with the mines closing down one after another and with them the miner’s libraries. Nobody seemed interested, because the influential people of Wales were what he described as ‘born-again Welshmen’, English-speakers who had learnt Welsh, often changing their names in the process. The Wales he knew was urban and English-speaking, because throughout the twentieth century only about half of the Welsh have been able to speak their own language. He believes that one of the greatest myths ever perpetrated is that the Welsh language was ‘murdered’ or ‘kicked in the teeth’ by the English state.

At the centre of this myth is the ‘Welsh Not’, the wooden placard hung about the necks of pupils heard speaking Welsh at school. In myth, this is the size of a breadboard. In one of his TV programmes Dai Smith handles one of the few surviving ‘Welsh Nots’: it is the size of a matchbox. Nor is there any evidence of a directive handed down by an English bureaucracy to schools. The ‘Welsh Not’ is much earlier, being used only in the voluntary schools, and then only because ambitious Welsh parents asked for it to be used to encourage their children to use English as a medium of instruction alongside Welsh, in areas where little English was spoken outside school.

Dai Smith is a social historian who has narrated the events of the Tonypandy disturbance of 1910 and explored the radical and socialist traditions of Wales from David Lloyd George to Aneurin Bevan. He sees the Welsh as a people of paradoxes. Less than a quarter of them speak their own language; they have adopted a national game, Rugby, invented in the English public schools; even their national costume is a nineteenth-century invention. In his book and TV series, Wales? Wales! (1984), he explored what it really means to be Welsh. In it, he argued that the myths around Welsh identity had been used and added to by a ‘Cymricizing’ leisure industry as much as by nationalists. Wales was busy reinventing its past to serve the needs of the present. He also wrote about the English-language literature of Wales, discussing poets like R. S. Thomas and Idris Davies as well as novelists like Lewis Jones and Raymond Williams. He ruthlessly dissected Richard Llewellyn’s hugely popular book, How Green Was My Valley, which became an Oscar-winning film.

As an English-Speaking Welshman, Dai Smith has often felt in the past like the Welsh language has been put on a life support machine by the British Government. More recently, of course, it has been supported directly from Cardiff, by the Welsh Assembly. The heavy subsidy for writing in Welsh, he argues, ignores how life in Wales has been lived for more than a century. Anglo-Saxons called the people ‘weallas’, strangers. This, Dai Smith claimed, is what the majority in Wales has been increasingly made to feel like in their own country, this time by their own countrymen.

Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas has often been described as one of the greatest writers in the English language, certainly of the first half of the twentieth century in which he lived. This is not just because of his poetry, written between 1934 and 1952, but also due to his short stories and plays. He was also a radio broadcaster, so we have many of his own recordings of his work. His work appeals to readers of all ages, including children, for whom his stories of his own childhood are particularly interesting.

His origins are firmly rooted in south-west Wales. He himself wrote that his mother “came from the agricultural depths of Carmarthen” and his father was the son of a railway worker, “Thomas the Guard” in Johnstown, a small Carmathenshire village, described in his short story, A Visit to Grandpa’s. Both parents were Welsh-speakers, but Dylan grew up with only a few words and phrases in the language, although his name is taken from The Mabinogion, the great collection of medieval Welsh tales. He was born in Swansea in 1914 and lived in Cwmdonkin Drive, in a modest, semi-detached house on a steep hill with panoramic views across the town and the bay. His father was English master at Swansea Grammar School and Dylan was encouraged to use his library. Besides poetry books, young Dylan’s other passion was the theatre, and was a good actor at school. In 1932 he acted in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever at the Little Theatre.

After leaving school, he worked briefly as a junior reporter on the South Wales Evening Post. His first poem to be published in a national magazine was No man Believes (1933), but more significant was the publication of his poem Light in The Listener (1934), which was praised by T S Eliot and Stephen Spender, two of the leading London poets of the day. His first book, 18 Poems was published just before Christmas in the same year. This led him to London and the publication of his second book by J M Dent in 1936. It was there that he met Caitlin Macnamara, a stunningly attractive Irish dancer.  She was modelling for the painter Augustus John, who later painted Dylan’s two most famous portraits. He introduced them and within a year they got married in Penzance, Cornwall. He had his work published in the US in 1939, and also began supplementing his modest income from writing by joining Wynford Vaughan Thomas at the BBC. He eventually made over eighty scripted broadcasts, some of which have become classics of the genre. The renowned Welsh actor Richard Burton was full of praise for Dylan’s broadcasting abilities.

In the late summer of 1944 Dylan, Caitlin and their young daughter Aeronwy moved to a wood-and-asbestos bungalow about a mile outside the seaside town of New Quay in Cardiganshire. Dylan and Caitlin had some London colleagues staying with him when they were attacked by Captain Killick, a Captain in the Commandos. He was carrying a machine gun, which he fired into their living room, and a grenade. He was charged with attempted murder and sent for trial to the Cardiganshire Assizes. He was acquitted and moved away.

Dylan, Caitlin and Aeronwy moved to ‘The Boathouse’ in Laugharne in 1949. He had first visited what he called “the strangest town in Wales” in 1934 and had briefly lived there in 1938. Like many other writers and artists, including Edward Thomas, Augustus John and Richard Hughes, Dylan loved the town, and felt secure there. His friend and fellow-writer, Vernon Watkins, described it as being Dylan’s “last refuge and sanity in a nightmare world.” Settled there, with some degree of permanence, Dylan had a new burst of creativity, producing some of his finest poems. In 1950 he published his most popular story, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, an amalgam of two other stories, in an American magazine. Working high above the estuary in the primitive wooden structure which was his Workshed, he also wrote one of his best-loved poems, Do not go gentle…there, as well as working on his radio play Under Milk Wood there, in between trips to the US.

These American trips were exhausting, but necessary, given his financial situation. Dylan prepared carefully for his readings, copying out each poem he intended to read into his best ‘copperplate’ hand-writing. He travelled huge distances from city to city and campus to campus. Not only was he expected to perform onstage, but also at the faculty parties which followed. Among those he met were Arthur Miller and Charlie Chaplin, whose films Dylan loved, identifying strongly with the character of the vulnerable little tramp. It was an amalgam of While in New York he fell into the Bohemian atmosphere of Greenwich Village with the same enthusiasm he had greeted Fitzrovia in London in the thirties. John Malcolm Brinnin chronicled these last years in his book Dylan Thomas in America, which came to be hated by Caitlin and Dylan’s friends in Britain because of its descriptions of Dylan’s drunken behaviour. On his fourth and final, fatal trip to America, Dylan collapsed on the streets and died in New York’s St. Vincent’s Hospital on 9 November 1953, in circumstances which remain disputed.

Although Dylan Thomas’ reputation was quickly established as a poet in the 1930s, he is now better known for his brilliant radio play, Under Milk Wood, and for his wonderfully humorous stories based on his childhood and adolescent experiences of Wales. He was fascinated by the small-town characters which surrounded him, especially in Laugharne, which he re-named Llareggub (spell it backwards!) Their conversations are gently mimicked, while the sounds, sights and smells of those seaside towns he describes so wittily are as fresh and amusing today as they were more than half a century ago.

R.S. Thomas

(picture below)

R S Thomas was born in March 1913. His reputation as a poet has been international for more than a generation, but his heart and soul belongs to the Llyn Peninsula in north Wales, where he was both poet and priest. There he was inspired by the rugged and challenging landscape as well as by the people he met and ministered to. He had been a priest in successive parishes in Wales before he reached the last parish before Ireland, Aberdaron. As you travel down the peninsula, the land becomes more and more stark, narrowing to the headlands at the tip where the sea takes over. Thomas’ poems and the views connect with each other, encouraging us to explore the questions which arise from both the poetry and the landscape. There are few poets who ask as many questions as R S Thomas. They invite us to explore, and to take to mind and heart questions that have no easy answers, or that are unanswerable.

Waldo Williams (1904-1972):

Williams was a native of Pembrokeshire and, in between writing, a junior school teacher. His poems, written in Welsh, are very mystical and intense, always relating to his Christian vision of the oneness of all mankind. His mastery of the language in a great variety of verse forms, often original and individual, and his use of imagery, give an unusual force and freshness to his expression of ancient themes.

A strong pacifist, he was once imprisoned for his refusal to contribute taxes for military purposes. He was a very reserved Welshman, greatly loved by many. Late in life he received a long-deserved Arts Council prize. His one volume of verse, Dail Pren, won him an enduring place in Welsh literature. Here is part of one of his best-loved poems in translation:


One short minute before the sun goes from the sky,

One gentle minute before the night starts on its journey,

To remember the forgotten things

Lost now in the dust of times gone by.

The achievement and art of early generations,

Small dwellings and great halls,

The fine-wrought legends scattered centuries ago,

The gods that no one knows about by now.

And the little words of transient languages,

They were gay on the lips of men,

And pleasant to the ear in the chatter of little children,

But no tongue calls upon them any longer.

Click on the links below for power-points and pdf docs>



combined Saint_David’s_Day

Story of Wales

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Posted February 28, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

… And All That (cont.): The Mysterious Magyar Origins of Margaret of Wessex and Scotland: II   1 comment

In my third posting commemorating the anniversaries of the two eleventh-century conquests of England, the Danish one of 1016 and the Norman one of 1066, I continue to explore the continental connections between the two events, stretching as far as southern Hungary. This reminds us that, above all, they were part of a complex set of dynastic, religious and political relationships which brought both the ‘English’ and the ‘Scottish’ into the mainstream of the cultural life of western European Christendom.

The Agatha Mystery Solved?


Although from a pagan branch of the House of Árpád (his father had led a pagan rebellion against István (above) in about 1037-8, which had led to Andrew’s exile),  Andrew I, ‘the Catholic’ (1046-60) had converted and, as his nomenclature suggests, become a devout Christian. István’s successor, Peter Orseolo (1038-41 and 1044-6), son of his sister and the Doge of Venice, had traded Hungary’s independence for the German Emperor’s help in restoring him to the throne. The feudal lords had turned to Andrew and his brothers, exiled in Poland, to re-establish order. The brothers first encountered a pagan rebellion of great force, which even claimed the life of Hungary’s primate, Bishop Gellért. On becoming king in 1046, Andrew I did not want to put the clock back, but suppressed the pagan rebels and restored István’s state. His younger brother, Béla, then defeated the German invaders.  It therefore seems unlikely that Agatha, soon to become bride to Edward the Exile, son of Eadmund Ironside, would have remained at the Hungarian court during this period if she had been a German princess.


Nevertheless, Agatha was related, through her mother Gisella, to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II, who was also István’s brother-in-law, and her close connection with the powerful family would have been a good recommendation for her children when travelling across western Europe. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle also states that Edward, who returned to England in 1057, had been brought up to ‘manhood’ in Ungerland. The monk, Florence of Worcester, compiled his Chronicon ex Chronicis from other contemporary sources, including the writings of the Venerable Bede and Bishop Asser, relating events up to 1117 (he died in 1118). It is more than probable that everything he recorded regarding the Princes of Wessex came from the Worcester chronicles of Ealdred, Bishop of Worcester until 1060, when Ealdred became Archbishop of York. It was impossible for Agatha to have been the Emperor’s daughter, since Henry II, although married, remained celibate and had no children. Later in his Chronicon, Florence related Bishop Ealdred’s ambassadorial mission to Cologne to obtain the return of the Anglo-Saxon Prince and his family. He then wrote of Edward’s return to England in 1057 and his death in London. The translation of the Latin phrase filiam germani imperatoris Henrici is the daughter of the Emperor Henry’s brother-in-law, identifying Agatha as the daughter of István and Gisella, the Princess of Bavaria, whose retinue of knights and priests helped István to establish Hungary as a strong, Christian state and to defend it against pagan rebels and his power-hungry relatives, the Pechenegs, before his death in 1038.

Thus, the evidence points to Agatha, Edward’s wife and the mother of Margaret of Wessex and Scotland, being the daughter of King István and the niece of the German Emperor, István’s brother-in-law. The sources which recount her descent from Agatha’s descent from the King of Hungary, originate in Normandy and Northumbria. The records are by Ordericus Vitalis, Gaimar and Ailred. It was in the interest of none of these to emphasise the German connection to such an extent as to obscure her Hungarian descent. Ordericus Vitalis was born in England in 1075 and was educated at a monastery in Normandy from the age of ten. He wrote his great historical work, Historia Eccleasiastica between 1124 and 1142. In this, two of the three children of Edward and Agatha, Queen Margaret of Scotland and Edgar, are frequently mentioned. Margaret’s husband, King Malcolm (Canmore), was at war with William of Normandy, also fighting for the cause of his brother-in-law Edgar. We can read of Scottish-Northumbrian events already mentioned in Ordericus Vitalis’ Historia. In connection with the deaths of Malcolm and Margaret he also recorded the parentage of the Queen of Scots. Vitalis confirmed the marriage of Edward to the daughter of the King of Hungary, filia regis Hunorum, and claimed that Edward ruled over the Hungarians. Indeed, it has been suggested that István’s preferred successor was Edward, not Peter Orseolo.

Little is written of the period in Hungarian history between the death of István and the accession of Andrew I, but it is entirely possible that Edward, as the husband of the King’s daughter, himself raised in Hungary from a child and therefore Hungarian-speaking, might have had a key role to play in the governance of the country as a young man. Indeed, there is a suggestion that, following Imre’s untimely death, István transferred the hereditary rights to the throne to his son-in-law. However, the accepted view is that Stephen designated his nephew, the son of his sister from her marriage to the Doge of Venice, Peter Orseolo, as his successor, summoning him to court and preparing him to rule. The order of hereditary succession and the potential insecurity of the Hungarian Crown could have served as a pretext for the Emperor, Henry III, to interfere in Hungary’s internal affairs, in the question of the succession. Territorial associations, extant to the present, also suggest that István may have presented certain lands to Edward on the Saxon Prince’s marriage to his daughter, or thereafter, which formed the basis of the rumour that the exiled Prince exercised power over Hungarian tenants. This is probably what the English records refer to when they suggest that Edward ‘ruled over the Hungarians’.

Peter ascended to the throne in 1038, but internal opposition considered him to be too much in the power of foreign lords, and ejected him in 1041, making his ‘palatine’ Samuel Aba, István’s brother-in-law, the new king. In 1044, Samuel Aba also had to fight internal rebellion, murdering fifty lords in order to retain the throne. Peter then returned at the head of an army provided by Henry III, the Holy Roman Emperor. Samuel fell in one of the battles for the throne, possibly by the hand of a treacherous assassin in his own ranks. Peter was then restored to the throne, but in the autumn of 1046 he was again forced to flee when Andrew, one of the sons of Vazul, or Vászoly, of the House of Árpád, claimed the throne and had him captured and blinded.  This was not a new form of punishment, and was probably an act of vengeance by Andrew for István’s even more gruesome punishment of his father following his pagan-inspired uprising against the Christian king in the fortieth, and last, year of his reign. The three brothers had fled to Poland  after this and when Andrew returned to become king, he entrusted a third of the country to his younger brother, Béla. In the same year that the Wessex family returned to England, 1057, Andrew had his infant son Solomon crowned king and betrothed to a princess of the Holy Roman Emperor a year later, thus securing the succession of the Árpád dynasty.



It is interesting to note that certain English forms and ceremonies were observed at Salomon’s coronation. When Edward returned to England, certain envoys came to fetch him, and it may be that the Hungarians heard about the English coronation ceremonies from them. At the Várkony Scene, Andrew challenged his brother Béla to lay claim to the crown and choose the sword in single combat against him. Prince Béla then chose to go into exile in Poland once again,  this time returning to Hungary yet at the head of his own army, with which he defeated and dethroned his brother, who died soon after, in 1060, and was buried at Tihány Abbey near Lake Balaton.

Béla I (1060-63) was then succeeded by Solomon (1063-74), who died childless, so Béla’s sons sat on the throne thereafter, Ladislas I (1077-1095) becoming the next great ruler, matching István’s saintliness, though not his length of reign. In retrospect, given these turmoils, the Wessex family may not have regretted leaving Hungary when they did, even though this meant returning to England already caught up in dynastic and political disputes. Geoffrey Gaimar of Lincolnshire wrote a chronicle in Old French, betraying his Norman origin, in about 1140. He wrote this in rhyme on the request of Custance, the wife of Ralph Fitzgilbert, founder of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. In this abbey, through the Abbot Ailred, more was known of Queen Margaret of Scotland than in any other monastery.

Gaimar had much to say about the Scottish Royal family, but he also recounts the fate of the Anglo-Saxon princes. In his poetic work the two princes are sent abroad on the advice of Eadmund Ironside’s widowed Queen. The two boys are entrusted to a Danish warrior named Walgar, who takes them to Denmark, where they remain for twelve years before being taken by Walgar to Hungary. They travel for five days through Russia until they reach the city of Gardimbre, where they are met by the Hungarian king and his wife. Walgar is known to the king and queen and he places the two boys in their care. They are aware that the princes are heirs to the English throne, receiving them affectionately and educating them at their court. Edward, the elder, marries the king’s daughter and the king promises his realm to him. The daughter of Edward and his wife is Margaret, the precious pearl who becomes the wife of King Malcolm of the Scots. Gaimar also tells us that King Edward the Confessor, while still living in Normandy, came to Hungary to aid his nephews, rightful heirs to the Hungarian throne, against the people of ‘Velacase’. If this episode, not mentioned elsewhere, has any historical basis, then it would be the only proof that the Anglo-Saxon princes living at the Hungarian court maintained any connection with their English relatives during this time. Although we cannot attribute any historical authenticity to these poetic tales, they do correspond with the chronicles in naming Agatha as the daughter of the King of Hungary and in stating that the Anglo-Saxon prince was, at one time considered heir to the throne of Hungary.

Aildred, the Abbot of Rievaulx, who spent many years at the Court of King David of Scotland, the youngest of Margaret’s six sons, reported some things he heard from David himself. In particular, the king told him of his father, Malcolm. In a letter in his work Genalogia Regum Anglorum, Aildred addressed Prince Henry, later Plantagenet King Henry II of England, encouraging him to be worthy of his great relative. King David, whose last hours and death he recounted. On his death-bed, David asked for his mother’s black cross. This cross is not described in detail, but it could have originally belonged to Gisella, given to Agatha in about 1045, when István’s queen left Hungary after his death, to return to Bavaria, where she lived out her life as a nun and died in about 1060. It is gold, but set with dark stones. According to Aildred’s testimony, the royal family considered Margaret to be descended from English and Hungarian kings. This record helps to confirm Agatha as the daughter of István and Gisella, and Margaret as their granddaughter.

In addition, the Hungarian nobles who accompanied Agatha to England in 1057 must also have played an important role at the Scottish Court. The Drummond family, for instance, is descended in direct line from a Hungarian noble named Georgius, who accompanied Princess Agatha and her three children to Britain. He is said to have saved Agatha and her children when they were in peril of shipwreck at sea, in the ship which was to have taken the Royal Wessex family back to Hungary, probably via Hamburg. The storm drove their ship towards the coast of Scotland, then a lot further north. When Malcolm subsequently met and married Margaret, Georgius received, at Margaret’s instigation, a large estate from King Malcolm. He was probably a natural son of Andrew I of Hungary, known by name to the Hungarian chroniclers. The descendants of Drummond and other Hungarian nobles must certainly have enjoyed some standing at King David’s court, and the court must have known something of Agatha’s Hungarian parentage. Boece, a sixteenth century chronicler, mentions five Magyar-Scottish families – the Giffurds, Maules, Morthiuks, Fethikrans and Creichtouns, all of whom had originated in Hungary and received donations of money and land to help them settle in Scotland. A further great Scots family descended from the Hungarians settlers of that time were the Leslies, who were to play a major role in the Scottish Reformation and the civil wars of the seventeenth century. In the nineteenth century, the historian Stephen Horváth called attention to the ancient Hungarian families of Scotland. The well-informed English and Scottish sources all tell the same story of Agatha and her children, though each in a different setting, and therefore with a different purpose or bias. It is doubtful if these noble families would have remained and settled in Scotland had Margaret herself not been of Hungarian, as well as Saxon, Royal blood.

Agatha was certainly related to the German Emperor, Henry II, through her mother, Gisella, the Emperor’s niece, but there can be little doubt that she was István’s daughter.  Writing in the middle of the last century, Sándor Fest also commented on the unusual name of Margaret’s youngest son, David, and suggested that he may have been named after her Hungarian relative, the second legitimate son of Andrew I. This David was a little boy of only three or four when Margaret left Hungary with her parents in 1057, aged twelve.  As a close relative, she must have known him well at Andrew’s court in Hungary. It is logical to suppose that her childhood memories induced her to give a name that was unusual in Scotland at that time to her youngest son, whom she would not then have expected to subsequently become King of Scotland.


To summarise from these accounts, the Princes of Wessex had been accompanied on their journey into exile by the Dane, Walgar, who was already acquainted with István and Gisella. Their renown as gracious monarchs of a young Christian country helps to explain why Hungary was chosen, and not another country. Only Gaimar’s chronicle mentions the journey through Russia (and Ukraine) as lasting five days. The other sources have nothing to say on the route taken. The German chronicler alone refers to Russia as their place of exile, but the Worcester version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contradicts this, stating clearly that Prince Edward grew up in Hungary and this is supported by the chronicle of Florence of Worcester. The contradiction here can be explained by the length of sojourn that the princes enjoyed en route through Russia to Kiev and perhaps by their time spent in Zemplén County, where they may have enjoyed the care and protection of the daughter of Yaroslav, Grand Duke of Kiev and future wife of Andrew I, until the reached their youth, when Eadmund died and Edward moved to István’s Court. Edward then married Agatha, daughter of István and Gisella, probably some time shortly after the death of Stephen’s son Imre in 1031. In 1057, during the reign of Andrew I (1046-60), Edward returned to England with Agatha and their three children, Margaret, Christine and Edgar in order to become the heir of Edward the Confessor. However, the plan of the ‘English party’ at the Confessor’s court went awry when Edward died soon after his return to London. After the Battle of Hastings, when their cause seemed lost, the widowed Agatha wanted to return to Hungary with her children. If she had been a German princess, she would surely have wanted to flee to the German Emperor for protection.


So, the last descendant of Alfred the Great and legal heir to the English throne found refuge from Canute’s outstretched murdering hand, first of all in eastern Hungary and then at the courts of King István and King Andrew I in the stormy early and middle decades of the eleventh century. It was on arriving at István’s court that he met and married the King’s daughter, Agatha, some time in the 1030s. The couple were given lands in Baranya County, referred to in a document from the reign of Andrew II which mentions ‘British Land’ (1205-35). Here, in Mecseknádasd, their firstborn child, who became Margaret of Scotland, was born in about 1045. There are also shrines and churches dedicated to Saint ‘Margit’ in the area. Edgar, their son and legitimate heir to the English throne, was born in 1051. Margaret died shortly after her husband, Malcolm III (Canmore) of Scotland, in 1093 and Edgar, having finally given up his claim to the English throne, died in 1126. All of Margaret’s six sons became kings of Scotland, ending with David I, and her daughter married the Norman king, Henry, son of William I, thus giving legitimacy to their dynastic rule over the English. 



… And Even More of All That… The Mysterious Magyar Origins of Margaret of Wessex and Scotland: I   1 comment


The Princes of Wessex Exiled in Hungary:

Of the three grandchildren of the Saxon King, Eadmund Ironside, the name of Margaret is the most marked by place and time. Her importance lies not only in the fact that the reforms started in the ecclesiastical and political life of Scotland during the reign of Malcolm (Canmore) were due to Margaret’s gentle influence, but also that she ennobled the still austere morals and customs of the kingdom. Indeed, according to the contemporary evidence of both the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Simeon of Durham, she also civilized her adoptive country. However, her importance to her paternal country, England, has been underestimated.


England, or rather the loosely allied Saxon kingdoms which the Kings of Wessex had unified in resistance to Scandinavian invasions and encroachments, from Alfred the Great to Edward the Confessor, was once more divided by the Norman Conquest after 1066, losing its short-lived independence. Ealdred, the Bishop of Worcester who had arranged for Edward’s return to claim the throne, continued to support the rights of Edgar after the Battle of Hastings. He only abandoned his cause when Edgar himself showed no desire to resist William usurping the throne.

Accepting the hopelessness of Edgar’s case, Ealdred was himself among those who crowned William I at Westminster Abbey, as Archbishop of York (from 1060). It is said that he died of a broken heart in 1069, due to the desperate state of the Saxon cause in the North, following yet another Danish incursion.

The Norman land grab and their tight system of feudal dues, which was later mythologised by the conquered Anglo-Saxons as ‘the Norman Yoke’, was resisted by the thanes, among them ‘Hereward the Wake’ in East Anglia, and many of the commoners followed them, often in open rebellion, and even to the point of civil war. William responded by resorting to terror tactics in his well-known ‘harrying of the North’. Although initially proclaiming him king on hearing of Harold Godwinson’s death at Hastings, the Saxon Witenagemot had been disappointed in the teenage Edgar, and he was never crowned. There was no other male descendant of the House of Wessex, though the rule of the foreign conqueror was all but unbearable.


William kept Edgar in his custody and took him, along with other English leaders, to his court in Normandy in 1067, before returning with them to England. Edgar may have been involved in the abortive rebellion of the Earls Edwin and Morcar in 1068; in any case, in that year he fled with his mother and sisters to the court of King Malcolm of Scotland. Malcolm married Edgar’s sister Margaret and agreed to support Edgar in his attempt to reclaim the English throne. When a major rebellion broke out in Northumbria at the beginning of 1069, Edgar returned to England with other rebels who had fled to Scotland, to become the leader, or at least the figurehead, of the revolt. However, after early successes the rebels were defeated by William at York and Edgar again sought refuge with Malcolm. In late summer that year the arrival of a fleet sent by King Sweyn of Denmark triggered a fresh wave of English uprisings in various parts of the country. Edgar and the other exiles sailed to the Humber, where they linked up with Northumbrian rebels and the Danes. Their combined forces overwhelmed the Normans at York and took control of Northumbria, but a small seaborne raid which Edgar led into Lindsey ended in disaster and he escaped with only a handful of followers to rejoin the main army.

Late in the year William fought his way into Northumbria and occupied York, buying off the Danes and devastating the surrounding country. Early in 1070 he moved against Edgar and other English leaders who had taken refuge with their remaining followers in a marshy region, perhaps Holderness, and put them to flight. Edgar returned to Scotland. He remained there until 1072, when William invaded Scotland and forced King Malcolm to submit to his overlordship. The terms of the agreement between them probably included the expulsion of Edgar. He therefore took up residence in Flanders, whose Count, Robert the Frisian, was hostile to the Normans.

However, in 1074 Edgar was able to return to Scotland. Shortly after his arrival there he received an offer from Philip I of France, who was also at odds with William, of a castle and lands near the borders of Normandy from which he would be able to raid his enemies’ homeland. He embarked with his followers for France, but a storm wrecked their ships on the English coast. Many of Edgar’s men were hunted down by the Normans, but he managed to escape with the remainder to Scotland by land. Following this disaster, he was persuaded by Malcolm to make peace with William and return to England as his subject, abandoning any ambition of regaining his ancestral throne.

The continuing tension was finally brought to an end by the marriage of Margaret’s daughter, Matilda, to King Henry I of England, son of William of Normandy (11 November 1100). The marriage produced the conditions necessary for the reconciliation of the Normans and the Saxons: through it the Norman usurpers became rightful claimants to the English throne. In the course of English history, perhaps British history, no marriage was more important than that of Henry I and the daughter of Margaret of Wessex and Scotland, at least until that of Henry Tudor and Margaret of York nearly four hundred years later, which brought together the rival houses of Lancaster and York, ending Plantagenet rule and bringing about the union of England and Wales.

Another consequence of Matilda’s marriage was that the crown of Alfred the Great passed through Margaret to the Plantagenet dynasty. Margaret’s granddaughter, also named Matilda, was the mother of the first Plantagenet king, Henry II (1154-1189), so that the blood of the Anglo-Saxon kings continued to flow in the veins of the Kings of England through to the end of the Middle Ages.

The story of the flight of the Anglo-Saxon princes to Hungary via Sweden, the return of the rightful heir and his family to English shores and the love match of Margaret with Malcolm Canmore is the stuff of legend and romance which remains unmatched in the annals of British, perhaps European history. I have detailed this in my previously-posted article. The story caught the fancy of one of the writers of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to the extent that he related the return of Edward’s family from their Hungarian exile in verse form.


However, there are two points on which these romantic legends and the literature which they inspired do not transfer clearly into historical narrative. Firstly, some writers have suggested that, after leaving Sweden, the young Princes of Wessex found refuge in Russia, before eventually returning to Hungary with its King Andrew I, ‘the Catholic’, in 1046.

Certainly, Edmund and Edward had to be hidden away, especially while they were still in their infancy, having been born only a few months before being sent to the Swedish Court by Canute. Their whereabouts had to be kept a secret while the Danish King of England was still alive (he died in 1035) or even while his dynasty remained (1042). From 1017 on Conrad II was Canute’s ally; his son Henry III was the latter’s son-in-law, and although Gunhilda, Canute’s daughter and Henry II’s wife, died early, loosening the ties between Canute’s family and the German Emperor, it may be that the English princes could not have been allowed refuge in Transdanubia, exposed as it was to attacks from the Emperor’s armies. Sándor Fesk, writing in 1940, believed that the Princes lived in Hungary somewhere near the Russian border, hence the confusion of the German chronicler who claimed they were domiciled in ‘Ruzzia’. At that time there was a frontier between Russia and Hungary and the region where the Hungarian, Russian and Polish territories touched was not so well-defined as to exclude the possibility of chroniclers confusing their geographical and political data. The Princes of Wessex may have spent their early years, if not decades, of their exile in the north-east of Hungary in the County of Zemplén, near the Russian frontier, where they first met the future wife of Andrew I, the daughter of Yaroslav, the Grand Duke of Kiev.


However, although they may have lived near Russia initially, the Princes enjoyed the hospitality of the Hungarian king and, probably following the death of Canute in 1035, Edward (his brother having died) moved to the Court of István, where he married the Princess Agatha. They had two daughters, Margaret, born in 1045, and Christine, and a son, Edgar, born in 1051. Therefore, Edward must have been at the Hungarian Royal Court before this and probably before István died in 1038, because the King considered making him his heir.

In the event, he chose Peter Orseolo, his nephew. Popular belief has it that, on their marriage, István gave Edward and Agatha a region in the County of Baranya as their home, in the hills close to the cathedral city of Pécs, which became known as ‘terra Britannorum’ . As Edward the Confessor did not return to the throne until 1042, this was probably considered remote enough within Hungary from the Royal Court to provide a home for Edward and Agatha to raise a family, safe enough from Canute’s successors. Margaret is said to have been born there, and if this was the case probably Christine also, a few years later, in Mecseknádásd,  but Edgar may have been born at Court, to which the Royal couple returned to aid Andrew I in gaining control of the country and consolidating the Catholic Church.

(to be continued…)

…And All That (much more!)… 1016-1066: The House of Árpád and the House of Wessex.   Leave a comment



This Autumn marks the anniversaries of two conquests of ‘England’. One by the Danish King, Canute, in 1016, and the second, better known of course, by the Normans in 1066. But through all the dramatic emphasis on dynastic struggle and military campaigns which accompanies these two anniversaries,  we may be in danger of underestimating the part played by by three royal houses in ensuring the continuity of descent and eventual stability of a fourth, the Plantagenets. The triangle of royal families which brought this about were the House of Wessex, the Hungarian House of Árpad and the Scottish House of Canmore.


Earliest Traces of Magyar-Saxon-Viking Relations:


In the eighth and ninth centuries, England did not really exist, except perhaps as an idea. Neither did Hungary, but the Magyar tribes had come together under one leader, Árpád (above). The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the Heptarchy were never in danger of invasion by the marauding Magyar horsemen, even in their most occidental adventures. The Magyars were never a sea-faring people, and they reined in their horses on the shores of the seas. Nevertheless, the western Celtic and Roman Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land were only given safe passage along the Danube Road when, under the rule of Szent István (St Stephen), Christianity became the official religion of the country. Vajk, his pagan name, was given Christian baptism by the papal envoy, together with a crown confirming his country as a Catholic Christian kingdom.


It was not until 1012 that St Colman decided to take this road on his pilgrimage to Palestine from Ireland. He never got as far as Hungary, however, as he was killed by Austrian peasants who mistook him for a spy. However, the fact that he chose the route along the Danube testifies to the new attitude of Western nations towards Hungary, with pilgrims and traders now being able to approach István’s crown lands without fear.

However, for some centuries, only a few pilgrims from the British Isles made their way across the country. The Anglo-Saxon chronicles state that Aeldred, the Bishop of Worcester, was the first churchman from Britain to travel through Hungary to the Holy Land, in 1058.

He probably had a special interest in Hungary as, before the Norman Conquest, he was the leader of the Saxon partisans of Edward Aetheling, whose claim to the throne they supported and who had been a refugee guest at the Hungarian Royal Court for nearly forty years, since the Danish King Canute’s takeover of the Saxon throne. However, by the time he reached Hungary Edward the Exile had already returned to England with his family in 1057. Soon after he set foot in Wessex, Edward died somewhat mysteriously before he could be anointed by Edward the Confessor as his successor.

002 (2)

Before the reign of István (1000-1038), there are no traces of direct relations between the two countries. Alfred the Great, contemporary of Árpád, the conqueror of the Carpathian Basin, wrote that all he knew of this territory was that it was desert. Neither did Alfred write of any of the peoples living in the regions between Carinthia and Bulgaria, which he mentioned.

So, the first mention of Hungary is recorded when St István received the two young sons of Eadmund Ironside at his Court, exiles from Canute’s Court following his takeover of their father’s kingdom in 1016.


Archaeological finds along the banks of the Oder and Vistula reveal that Hungary had direct commercial relations with the Vikings. The road across Russia, and especially to Kiev, seem to have played a prominent role in these relations.


St István’s coins (above) have also been found as far north as the Faroe Islands. According to a passage in a chronicle written in French verse by Gaimar, who lived in Northumbria, István was acquainted with the Dane Valgarus even before he brought the sons of Eadmund Ironside to the Hungarian Royal Court. This is the only written record linking the Vikings and the Magyars. Aethelstan’s victory of the Saxons over the Vikings at battle of Brunanburgh in 937 had contributed towards the peaceful settlement and co-existence of Saxons, Angles and Scandinavians in the North and East of England. Four years earlier, the defeat of the Magyars at Riade in 933 had led to Géza, István and his descendants in the Árpád dynasty, especially Andrew I, transforming Hungary into a ‘civilised’ Western European Catholic country.


The Wessex Exiles at the Court of St István:

Eadmund Ironside died shortly after reaching his agreement with Canute, King of Denmark, deciding the boundaries of his realm. He died on 30 November, 1016, leaving his Queen, Ealdyth, with two small sons, Eadmund and Edward. Canute’s advisor, Eadric, tried to persuade his king to have the two little orphans to be put out of the way as they might cause trouble in the future. However, since Canute had already gained control of the whole of the kingdom, he had no desire to sully his name with the blood of children. Instead, he dispatched the two boys to Sweden, with the command that the boys should meet their end there. Olaf, the devout Christian King of Sweden, was revolted at the idea of a murder which Canute himself was unable, or unwilling to undertake. He therefore caused the boys to be taken to Hungary, to István’s court. Presumably, they were taken through Russia in 1017-18, and the Anglo-Saxon chronicles record nothing further of them for the next forty years. We know that the King of Hungary received them cordially and educated them with deep affection. Edmund, the elder of the two, died young, but in due course, Edward married a Hungarian noblewoman, Agatha, a relative of the German Emperor. She bore him three children: Margaret, Christine and Edgar. The three children were educated in Hungary until 1057 when, after four decades of exile, Edward was recalled to England with his family by the ageing Confessor who was delighted to hear of his nephew’s survival.

There are no contemporary Hungarian records about how the Princes arrived in Hungary, who accompanied them, whether their mother was with them or whether Edward was in communication with anyone at the court of Edward the Confessor after the latter came to the throne in 1042. It was only in 1054 that the English courtiers began to show an interest in Prince Edward of Wessex as a possible heir to the throne. Edward the Confessor had himself come to the throne after years of exile in Normandy, and was without issue.  Attention was called to the prince living in exile in a far-away land. Aeldred, the Bishop of Worcester, went to Cologne as ambassador to Henry III, Emperor of Germany, with the request that he should negotiate with the King of Hungary for the return of the Royal family of Wessex. Although the Bishop was received with pomp and splendour, he left the imperial city a year later, without accomplishing this task. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle does not give the reason why the powerful Emperor of Germany did not comply with the King of England’s request, but the Wessex family did not reach England until 1057, after Henry III’s death.

On his return to England, Edward became heir apparent to the English throne, but he died before he was able to see his uncle, Edward the Confessor, to receive his blessing. His widow, Agatha, and family continued to live in England in the company of the Hungarian gentlemen who had escorted them there and remained in their retinue until they eventually settled in Scotland after the Norman invasion and the Battle of Hastings in 1066. According to the hereditary succession, Edgar was the rightful heir to the throne and therefore just as much in the way of the ambitions of William the Conqueror as were his father and uncle, the exiled princes, in the way of Canute the Great. Although receiving the support of both the Saxon thanes and bishops for his claim, being the last prince of the dynasty of Cerdic and Alfred, the only lawful heir, he was forced to flee. Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had twice proclaimed him King, but had not yet crowned him by 1066. Finally, they were obliged to admit that they could not hope to be liberated by a young king who was not exceptionally bright. Later, Edgar was forced to pay homage to William of Normandy and so the last male descendant of Cerdic dragged on a sluggish and contented life as the friend and pensioner of Norman patrons. Not for the last time, the law of male primogeniture determining the English succession denied the country the rule of a great woman in the form of the Princess Margaret, Edward of Wessex’s eldest and undoubtedly brightest child.

The rest of the royal family were obliged to contemplate flight, and their thoughts turned again to Hungary. They boarded a ship, presumably bound for Hamburg, but a storm drove them into port in Scotland. They anchored in the harbour which is still called ‘Margaret’s Hope’ and landed there. According to the legend, there they were met by the King of Scots, Malcolm III (Canmore), who rode out to them. Apparently, he soon fell in love with the beautiful, gentle Margaret, so much so that he sought her hand in marriage.


After a period of hesitation, Margaret accepted the proffered hand, and with it a major role in European and Scottish history. Her sister, Christine, eventually returned to England after Edgar’s reconciliation with William the Conqueror. She entered the convent of Romsey back in Wessex and became a nun, playing a prominent role in the education of Queen Margaret’s children, especially her daughter Maud, or Matilda, who became Henry I’s queen consort. Christine became personally acquainted with Anselm, the great Archbishop of Canterbury. However, it is Margaret, of Wessex, Hungary and Scotland, who I will investigate further in my next blog.

I Know Not What… Miklós Radnóti   4 comments


A few weeks ago I posted a blog on the ‘Heroes of the Hungarian Holocaust’ which dealt with recent articles from The Hungarian Review, one of them about the poet Miklós Radnoti, who died on a forced ‘death’ march in November 1944. Four of his last poems from his camp notebook appeared in English in the same publication, but since then all his major poems have been published in a bilingual edition, so I thought I would post them one by one on the anniversary of the day on which they were written, exactly seventy years ago.

First of all, however, here’s some information about the poet from Zsuzsanna Ozsváth’s introduction to the volume published by Corvina Press (details below):

Miklós Radnóti was one of Hungary’s greatest poets of the twentieth century. Born in Budapest in 1909, he was murdered by members of the Hungarian armed forces in the small village of Abda in western Hungary, on an unknown date between the sixth and tenth of November in 1944. Caught up in the whirlwind of the Hungarian Holocaust which followed the Nazi takeover of the country in March 1944, he suffered unspeakable deprivation and died a horrifying, anonymous death. However, he left behind poems of the utmost beauty and rarity that both express and illuminate Hungarian culture. Many of them covey moods and perceptions untainted by the horrors, while others offer first-hand accounts of the wholesale murder. Taken as a whole, they reveal the wide range of Radnóti’s imagination and the obligation he felt to give testimony to an existence engulfed by catastrophe. As well as being masterworks in the annals of the poetry of the last century, they are also documents of destruction, much as Wilfred Owen’s poetry also serves to document the suffering of the trenches of the Great War. Through them Radnóti subverted the horror of the Holocaust, in helping us to understand it.


Radnóti also witnessed the rise of Nazism, and, like many in different walks of life, fought for Hungary’s freedom and independence from it. He insisted on the ethical mission of art, but the bestiality unleashed upon European Jews of the time destroyed both life and art. Taken by a freight train from Hungary to Yugoslavia in May 1944 and forced to trek back as the German army evacuated the Balkans, he was shot in the neck and buried in a mass grave with twenty-one other forced labourers. When his body was exhumed a year and a half later, his last poems, stained by dirt and blood, were found in the pocket of his raincoat. Within a few years of the end of the war, his poems, including these resurrected ones, became well-known to Hungarians, exalting and moving millions of them in the continuing gloom which followed. Radnóti’s place among the Hungarian masters was confirmed. Until now, they have not been so well-known outside Hungary, but Ozsváth and Turner’s volume seeks to call the attention of the English-speaking world to them, giving them the means to resound… and communicate the vital, immediate sense which characterizes the original.

From its very beginning, Radnóti’s life was overshadowed by tragedy. At his birth, both his mother and twin brother died. However, because his father re-married in his infant years, Miklós was at first unaware of the double death, and only heard of it at the age of twelve, after his father’s funeral. He spent the next six years with distant relatives and, after graduating from secondary school, he left Hungary to study textile technology in Czechoslovakia. A year later, he returned to Hungary to study literature. However, the ‘Nemerus Clausus Act’ of September 1920, the first anti-Semitic law in Europe, required that the number of Jews in Hungarian universties be reduced to six per cent. Barred from the University of Budapest, Radnóti enrolled at Szeged University, where he read French and Hungarian literature and was awarded a PhD in 1934.

However, by this time the Horthy regime had renewed its relationship with the populist right-wing forces which had fomented chauvinism and anti-Semitism since the end of the Great War. They joined a new, radical Right that blamed the short-lived Soviet Republic of Béla Kun for the country’s ills and associated the Jews with it, as many of them had appeared visible in its reign.  The Jews were also blamed for the international banking crises which led to the Depression. Despite its longstanding liberal literary traditions stretching back into the mid-nineteenth century and beyond, much of the city’s recent identity had become intertwined with the radical Right which had set itself up there in 1919, organising murder squads that moved from place to place, killing Jews and those suspected of being Communist sympathisers. Although the atrocities stopped after Horthy’s assumption of power in 1920, the politics found its way into public institutions so that, when proto-Fascism re-emerged from the end of the twenties, the university proved too weak to keep out the rabble. and it became a battleground between the ultra-Right and the defenseless Jewish students.

In response to the country’s shift to the right, there were a number of groups arising on the centre-left, liberal, populist and social democratic. Continuing in the liberal tradition of the nineteenth and early twentieth century Hungarian poets, Radnóti was among the young people in favour of social change. He joined the Art Forum of Szeged Youth, a populist movement addressing the plight of Hungarian peasants, supporting agrarian reform. Drawing on Hungarian folklore, they identified with the national poet Sándor Petőfi and musicians like Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály.  Inspired by the left-wing idealism common among writers and artists of the time, both inside Hungary and from outside, Radnóti cherished the values he developed in this group for the rest of his life.

He also became interested in Catholicism at this time. Many of the intellectual conversations of Jewish literati and artists took place at a time when anti-Semitism was a swelling tide, and many Jews became aware of the fragility of their Jewish faith and ‘ethnicity’. They were, once again, scapegoats, blamed for not only for the excesses of both Communism and capitalism but also labelled as aliens and even enemies of their native country.  Ever since Petőfi became the voice of the fight for Hungarian independence in 1848-9, being a poet in Hungary meant becoming part of that struggle, a heritage cherished by all great Hungarian poets, who were also expected to be exemplary patriots. To convert to Catholicism meant being able to tear down the walls of separation, to free oneself which many secular, well-integrated Jews found wearisome in any case. When the political pressure called into question their very identity, several artists became Catholics. Radnóti was one who embraced an aesthetic Catholicism with a view of life which included faith in the redemptive quality of art, socialist concerns, and an overwhelming compassion for human suffering. It took him fifteen years to convert, he became a Catholic at heart in his late teens. Ozsváth has observed that he interwove Biblical symbolism and the best of the humanist tradition in his poetry and focused passionately on a noble patriotism, one which countered and challenged the brutal and militant chauvinism of official Hungary. He insisted on his identity as a Catholic and a Hungarian poet for the rest of his life, though his country branded him as a Jew. Once identified as such, regardless of his own detentions, he was effectively sentenced to death.

After publishing his first collections of poems, Radnóti moved to Budapest in 1934. Despite his teacher’s certification, he remained ‘unemployed’ for the rest of his life, though he became a regular contributor to Nyugat (Occident), the most prestigious literary journal in twentieth century Hungary. He became part of what the poet and editor Mihály Babits described as the third generation of the journal’s distinguished literary tradition. He accepted this responsibility for the direction Hungary was taking, trying to warn against the impending disaster. From the mid-thirties, a significant group of Hungary’s artists and writers, from Bartók to Babits, turned against the increasingly pro-Nazi political tide and were joined by some of the country’s leaders, who began to anticipate the catastrophic consequences of its alliance with Nazi Germany. However, Nazi infiltration and pro-Fascist ideology had already made Hungary economically dependent on the Third Reich so that hopes for political independence proved futile. At the same time, Hungary’s cultural life continued to flower and its poets wrote some of its most beautiful poetry. It’s scientists and mathematicians also began to achieve international recognition for their original discoveries and achievements.

Despite his darkest premonitions, Radnóti’s work also continued to flourish, especially after his marriage to his high school sweetheart, Fanni Gyarmati, who had been the central focus of his love poems since the late twenties. By the late thirties, he was widely recognised in literary circles. However, within three years, from 1938-41, three sequences of anti-Jewish laws were introduced. The first two defined who was Jewish and regulated the percentage of Jewish participation in various economic activities. The third created a forced labour system that became responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, including the poet’s. Following the Nazi blitzkrieg on Poland, he anticipated the full-scale destruction of Hungary, and became sick in the stomach, ridden by insomnia and near to collapse. Nevertheless, he recovered sufficiently to produce work of great innovation in the lyrical tradition, combining the classical forms of the ancients with modern sensibilities. In 1938 he published a collection of poems, Steep Road, and in 1940, three more collections, including a volume of prose writing, a selection of translations and his own Selected Poetry. Two more volumes followed in his lifetime.

Much of what he started, however, he was unable to finish, as from 1940 he was called up three times into slave labour units. He was worked to exhaustion in coalfields, sugar plants and ammunition factories during his first two call-ups and in his last he was taken to the copper mines in Bor, Yugoslavia. However, under pressure from Soviet and Partisan forces, the German Army was forced to evacuate the Balkans. Radnóti’s squad was force-marched back to Hungary, to be transferred from there to slave-labour camps in Germany. Cold weather, exhaustion, hunger, savage beatings and killings meant that of marching column which contained of 3,600 men on leaving Bor, only eight hundred crossed the Hungarian border. Marching on through Western Hungary in November, Radnóti began to lose his strength. His feet were covered with open blisters, such that he could no longer walk. It was probably on 8 November that the squad reached a brickyard in a town near Győr, where they spent the night. Next day three NCOs of the Hungarian Armed Forces separated Radnóti and twenty-one others from the column. Crowding them onto two borrowed carts, they took them first to a hospital, then to a school housing refugees. Neither had room for them, so the soldiers took them to the dam near Abda, where they were ordered to dig a ditch. The guards then shot them one by one into the ditch.

Radnóti’s last volume of poetry, Foamy Sky, was published posthumously in 1946, a volume which did not then contain the last five poems. Only after his body was exhumed were these five poems found, inscribed in the small camp notebook he had obtained in Bor. Two years later, the entire and complete volume was re-published. Since then it has been re-published many times in Hungary, but never in English, until now. Ozsváth concludes:

…the unforgettable formal music of his poems not only preserves his most personal perceptions but also echoes the lives and culture of all those who were murdered in the Holocaust.  And while they give account of the darkest hours of history, they also demonstrate the tremendous power of the human spirit to triumph over death.




An extract from I Know Not What…

I know not what to strangers this dear lanscape might mean,

to me it is my birthplace, this tiny spot of green;

ringed now with fire, it was, once, my childhood rocking me;

I grew there as a fragile branch from the parent tree;

O may my body sink back to that life-giving soil.

This land is home to me: for if a bush should kneel

before my feet I know its name just as its flower,

I know who walks the road, whither and at what hour,

I know what it might mean if reddening pain should fall

dripping some summer dusk down the lintel or the wall.

For him who flies above it, a map is all he sees,

this living scape of being but symbols and degrees;


and in the park the trace of loves who once loved me,

the honey taste of kisses sweet as bilberry,

and on the way to school you’d not step on a crack,

lest you’d forget your lesson, or break your mother’s back;

the pilot cannot see that paving-stone, that grass:

to see all this, there is no instrument or glass.

For we are guilty too, as others are,

we know how we have sinned, in what, and when and where;

but working people live here, poets in innocence,

breast-feeding infants with their dawned intelligence,

and one day it will brighten, hid now in safety’s dark,

till peace shall write upon our land its shining mark

and answer our choked words in sentences of light.

With great wings cover us, O guardian cloud of night.

17 January, 1944


Zsuzsanna Ozváth & Frederick Turner (2014), Foamy Sky: The Major Poems of Miklós Radnóti. Budapest: Corvina Books.

Francis R Jones & Attila Balázs (2013), Forced March and Poems from a Muddy Notebook, in The Hungarian Review, Volume IV No. 6.

Posted February 18, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

The Hungarian Holocaust, 19 March 1944 – 1 March 1945   1 comment

A Chronicle of Actions by the Hungarian State and its

forces against the Jewish and Roma Citizens of Hungary.

1. Occupation and Collaboration:

After the German occupation of 19 March 1944, the Regent, Miklós Horthy, remained in office, and Hitler’s all-powerful agent in Hungary, Dr. Edmund Veesemayer quickly introduced a system under which the invaders were freed from the tasks of routine administration and policing. German demands were met through the Stójay government, the General Staff of the Hungarian forces and the usual organs of public administration. The Germans were seen as allies rather than conquerors, and an atmosphere of general calm, or paralysis, was maintained.

However, within days, Gestapo agents worked with lists provided by paid informers to round-up Hungarian office-holders considered dangerous to the interests of the Reich. These included civil servants, aristocrats, monarchists, liberals, politicians of the Smallholders and Social Democratic parties and journalists. Refugees from German-occupied Europe were also caught in the net and deported to SS concentration camps. During the weeks following the occupation, more than three thousand Hungarian Jews were taken into custody. The SS Task Force and the police units in Hungary operated under the command of Colonel Hans Ulrich Geschke and one of its operating units was known as the Judenkommando, charged with the responsibility of rounding-up and deporting the Jewish population of Hungary. This had not happened before due to the opposition of the Kállay government, but Adolf Eichmann regarded it as his aim in life to annihilate the Jewish population of Europe, and was determined to resolve the Hungarian Jewish question quickly and radically, without a second Warsaw. At his trial in Israel in 1961, Eichmann said that his detachment in Budapest had been only fifteen or twenty strong. However, he was probably referring only to the senior command, and there were a further eighty to a hundred lower-ranking SS and ancillary personnel. Several hotels were commandeered throughout Budapest and occupied mainly by the Hungarian State Security Police, collaborating with the Gestapo and adopting their methods. Police officers headed by Péter Hain, László Koltay and Ödön Martinides had a Hungarian staff of over two hundred, and there was a further staff under Lieutenant-Colonel László Ferenczy, who acted as liaison officer between the Gendarmerie and the German Nazis. Hain’s squad of detectives set about pillaging the well-to-do, helped by volunteer informers, at first handing over their loot to the Nazis. However, after a few weeks, they began to keep the proceeds for themselves.

2. The Gendarmerie:

The function of the Royal Hungarian Gendarmerie was to provide nation-wide public security and internal services. In Budapest and the provincial towns this responsibility devolved on the local police. The gendarmerie, organised on military lines, functioned in seven regional bodies, or districts. Between 1938 and 1945 these were increased to ten, and after that the force was disbanded. After the German occupation, it was this force which was responsible for the moving of the Jews into transit camps (described as ghettos), for guarding them and deporting them. At the end of the war they were fourteen thousand of them, having been called up to fight the Soviets as the front moved into Budapest.

Within weeks, Eichmann and his staff had absolute and unlimited authority, with the puppet Hungarian government holding its Jewish citizens, as defined under the pre-war racial laws, under complete subjection. There was nowhere that they could hide from the collaborating Hungarian officialdom. Szabolcs Szita has summed up succinctly and effectively the role of the Regent in all this:

It played into Eichmann’s hands… that the first citizen of Hungary, Miklós Horthy, had nothing to say on the subject of the persecutions and deportations. The Regent had been in power for twenty-four years, gave the government a ’free hand’in respect of the Jewish regulations, and in that regard ’did not wish to exercise influence’. The confidence that the Jewish community had in Horthy and in the fruits of historical coexistence was not repaid by the lifting of a single finger.

Not only did Samu Stern and other leaders of the Jewish population trust Horthy to protect them if they kept quiet and did their duty, they also made the fatal mistake of trusting the SD and the Gestapo to keep their promises. Eichmann’s men, small in number, needed the support of the Hungarian government, and they got it. Andor Jaross, the Foreign Minister, László Endre, Secretary of State and László Báky, retired Colonel of gendarmes, all joined them. So did numerous officials, both senior and junior, serving as tools of the occupying power. They issued proclamations, inciting anti-Semitism, as a matter of routine. A extension of the anti-Jewish laws was enacted, and from 29 March a new spate of anti-Jewish regulations were announced. German and Austrian Jews, refugees in Budapest, were the first to realise that genocide would follow shortly, and many committed suicide rather than face what they had once witnessed once more.

The Hungarian Jews, fully assimilated and loyal to the Regent, still hoped that what had happened to Jews elsewhere would not happen to them. They were wrong. Döme Stójay had been an ambassador to Berlin and quickly complied with all the Nazi’s demands. From 5 April the Jews were required to wear the yellow star, but this didn’t alarm the wider Hungarian public who had become accustomed to the legal restriction on their Jewish neighbours and either passively ignored them or accepted them, having swallowed the growing tide of propaganda. In Győr some young people wear yellow flowers in their lapels to show their sympathy. In Apostag gentile girls swapped coats with their Jewish friends to give them a break from the routine beatings carried out by the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross.

3. Ghettoisation:

From 16 April the Hungarian authorities began to force hundreds of thousands of Jews from all over Hungary into ghettos (since 2004 this has been kept as Holocaust Memorial Day in Hungary). As in Apostag, this was often carried out entirely by the gendarmerie and the Hungarian Army, without the oversight of a single German officer. All persons declared to be Jewish (according to the law this was any person with a Jewish grandparent) had to leave all their properties and move into designated buildings, brick-works, empty factories and warehouses on the outskirts of towns. In these ghettos they were self-governing, though under the orders of the Hungarian gendarmerie, who often beat the men to death in the course of interrogation about hidden property. Midwives in the pay of local authorities were brought in to subject women and girls to humiliating searches.

Where they had warning, individual citizens tried to hide their Jewish friends and neighbours, and there were offers from benevolent strangers. However, it was only those who were already in hiding when the deportations began, or who had already left their villages for Budapest, who could be hidden. The silence maintained by the political and religious leaders meant that not even the local clergy received warnings. The entire Jewish population of Apostag, comprising more than sixty extended families and six hundred people (out of a population of six thousand), who had been in the village since the early eighteenth century, were forced to pack their belongings on carts within an hour and move to Kalocsa. There was no time to hide any of them, or for any of them to escape. When Eichmann then proposed to transport the undesirable element away from the war zone to Germany, government ministers Baky and Jaross were delighted, declaring that he was doing more good for Hungary than all the statesmen of the past two hundred years. In eight weeks from 14 May 147 train-loads totaling 437,402 Hungarian citizens from the provinces and the satellite towns of Budapest were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau (the number comes from Veesenmayer’s report).The existence and exact nature of the camp was a closely guarded secret of the Reich. Though this may have been known, or guessed at, by some of the Jewish refugees in Budapest who had committed suicide after the initial occupation, it is believable that both the Hungarian victims and perpetrators had only rumours to suspect that behind the official phrase for the deportations, Arbeiter Umsiedlung (relocation of workers), lay something far more sinister. Nevertheless, there were but a handful of protests. Archdeacon Imre Szabó, a Reformed Church pastor in Budapest, wrote prophetically to András Tasnádi Nagy, the Speaker of the National Assembly:

What is happening today is no longer the old Jewish law. In this present event the moral sense of Hungary and her respect for the law are being destroyed, her honour lost in the eyes of mankind.

What was presented before the deportations and ghettoes as a struggle for self-defence in economic and spiritual terms has now, with deportations and ghettoes, become a question of world importance, and the blood of Christ will not wash away the blood of the Jews from our hands. Unite, Hungarians of good will, and turn from this regime, which will leave its name here as a curse.

There is some evidence that the deportation of the Hungarian Jews from Budapest was impeded by measures taken by Regent Horthy, who ordered three thousand gendarmes back to the provinces. However, in the confusion caused by the Allied advance, the deteriorating military situation for the Axis alliance in Romania and the rumours of a putsch against him, Stójay was able to ignore his orders and begin the deportations from the suburbs of the capital. It was Himmler’s intervention in redirecting all remaining military resources and personnel to the Romanian Front which halted the deportation of the 200,000 Jews from Budapest and the death marches of the unarmed forced labour units, which were mainly composed of Jewish men. It was also in this lull in anti-Semitic operations in Hungary, that the name and nature of Auschwitz-Birkenau became known in Budapest. Politicians and church leaders could no longer be in any doubt about what awaited Eichmann’s transportees.

Even so, in the summer of 1944, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry continued to defend its actions on The Jewish Question against the mounting international outcry against the genocide, led by the United States. According to the Hungarian government, the Hungarian nation was defending its own against the greatest danger… a much greater danger than that presented to the white population of the USA by the negroes or the Japanese. As the Soviet army approached the frontiers of Hungary the defeatist propaganda and disruptive activity of the Jews had to be stopped. They had therefore been segregated and set to useful work in Hungary and elsewhere. A large number of Jews had been transferred to Germany as a workforce, as had for years also been the case with Christian Hungarians.

4. The Roma:


Perhaps by Christian Hungarians the Stójay government was referring to the treatment of the Roma. In fact, the first Hungarian-speaking people to be deported, first to the ghetto in Lodz in 1939, and then to Auschwitz, were from the Burgenland in Austria. They were separated from their relatives on the Hungarian side of the border, just five kilometres away, near Sopron. The Roma in Hungary itself had been given a separate register in August 1940, on which 2,475 names were recorded. In July 1941, a Bill banning interbreeding between Hungarians and Roma was rejected in the Upper House of Parliament. The following year, the first gipsy ghetto was set up by the Esztergom City Council, which the internees were only allowed to leave for work purposes. In 1944, alongside the anti-Jewish actions, the Roma were also herded into labour camps in several counties, including Szolnok and Bács-Kiskun, which were established on some of the larger farms. In June, those Roma designated as unreliable were moved to special concentration camps within Hungary. These were established near the bigger provincial towns, and the settled Roma communities in Szolnok, Csongrád, Bács-Kiskun, Pest, Heves and Nógrád counties were moved to camps in Szeksárd, Veménd, Pecsvárad, Baja and Nagykáta. In other words, they were deliberately moved from eastern to western Hungary. In August and September, the remaining Roma were subjected to raids on their villages, pressing the men into forced labour companies. The first massacre of gipsies took place on 5 October in Doboz, Békés County, where twenty Roma, including women and children, were killed by hand grenades and machine-guns of the Hungarian first armoured division’s military police, acting together with the local gendarmes. Later that month, the Roma were ordered not to leave their permanent residences.



The first Roma deportations from Hungary began in November, firstly to the border fortress town of Komárom and from there to Germany. The Roma living in or near Pest were gathered together in the gendarmeries and taken to the brick works at Óbuda. From there, on 10 November, they were taken from Budaörs station in cattle trucks to Dachau, and then to Ravensbrück. In the rest of November and December, the Hungarian Nazi Arrow Cross made four further raids on the Roma in the areas they controlled. Those who were declared slackers or vagabonds by the local authorities were interned. Those who were able to work were taken away to a ghetto at Körmend, and from there, three weeks later, to labour camps nearer the borders of the Reich.

5. Red Cross and Arrow Cross:




Meanwhile, the remaining Jewish population of Budapest were living at the same subsistence level as the general population, despite the claims of the political far right that they were having a cushy time. As a result of the persistent removals of rights, men away on compulsory forced labour, and the deaths of many in the process, mass impoverishment and demoralisation were more and more in evidence. Applications to officialdom from widows who had lost husbands went unanswered. Jews’ yellow ration cards were worth less and less inferior food in the shops. The Swedish and Swiss embassies and their diplomats Wallenberg, Anger and Lutz did all they could to ameliorate these conditions and to protect the Jews against recurrent threats of deportation, providing safe houses, exemptions from wearing yellow stars and from forced labour in the army. Of Wallenberg’s Hungarian colleagues several, including Béla Elek, who ran the foreign service, Dr Péter Sugár and István Löwinger lost their lives in tracing and rescuing holders of protective passports who had been arrested. Lászlo Hollós and Ödön Ullman were arrested and murdered as well.




Ferenc Szálasi and his followers came to power on 15 October through the armed intervention of the German military. The remnant of the Hungarian state was wrested from Miklós Horthy and put into the hands of the Arrow Cross Party, the Hungarian fascists for whom terror became their instrument of dictatorship. Horthy and his family were removed to Germany. On 27th the National Council united the functions of the head of state and of government, which was then endorsed by Parliament on 4 November. Szzálasi became head of the Hungarista Workers’ State. He had promised Hitler to throw the nation into total war, but the resulting turmoil merely caused breakdown in the army, the police and public administration. This left the Arrow Cross Party free to operate at will, proclaiming itself as the will of the nation. Many joined it as the only legal party, offering its members armed authority and protection. Its ranks were swollen by elements of the criminal underworld who recognised the chance for unrestrained daylight robbery. Even Wallenberg’s bold staff were forced into hiding, though he managed to reach an agreement with the new regime’s Foreign Minister, Baron Gábor Kemény, that the staff of the Royal Swedish Embassy would continue to have exceptional treatment, exempting them from forced labour, wearing the star and living in starred housing, and from curfew. It gave hope to several hundred people and gave Wallenberg the room to prevent the complete destruction of the Budapest Jews. However, the Szálasi government quickly realised its mistake, and drastically reduced the scope of the exemption by the end of October.

6. The Terror and the Death Marches:




In the  early morning of 28 October Archdeacon Ferenc Kálló was one of the first prominent church leaders to be murdered in the streets by the Arrow Cross. The Lutheran minister Mátyás Varsányi of Buda, who gave much help to evicted Jews and occupants of starred houses, was also shot in the street. Klára Tüdös recollected how dreadful rumours circulated about Jews interned at brick-works and cattle-trucks with barbed wire on them, and as dawn broke processions of people wearing stars would set off in the streets of Pest. People were lined up in the streets, marched off, ceaselessly shouted at, trudging off to Óbuda in broad daylight.

In November the Arrow Cross began mass murders of Jewish men who had been sent to forced labour in camps surrounding the city, on the roads leading to them. Women and girls who were assembled were robbed, beaten and kicked. In his confidential two-page report of 11 November, the Red Cross delegate reported to Geneva that the Óbuda brick-works was, in effect, a concentration camp. The conditions beggared description. He found a crowd of five or six thousand starving Jewish prisoners in the open works yard, soaked to the skin and frozen to the marrow, in a totally and desperate condition. Some that had committed suicide lay on the ground.

In Pest, the Arrow Cross carried out group executions on the Danube embankment in the night. These incidents of slaughter of Jews occurred from October to the end of November, when they became nightly occurrences, in party houses, in the streets and the squares, occasionally in hospitals and flats, as well as on the side of the river. The embankment shootings carried on into the bitter winter. On 27 December, Sára Salkaházi, a member of the Sisters of Social Service, was shot into the Danube together with the three Jews she was found protecting, and the religious education teacher, Vilma Bernovits. Even those in the Swedish protected houses did not escape this form of terror. In an Arrow Cross raid on 30 December all the occupants of one of these apartment houses, some 170 people, including children, were ordered out into the street, forced to strip and then shot in groups into the Danube. Wallenberg was informed, and arrived to stop the killings. During the day the trams ran, cinemas and places of entertainment opened and sporting events were reported in the papers, while in the public places bloodied, half-naked corpses could be seen and people were hanged with abusive placards round their necks. Serial murders of a comparable sort, committed by Hungarians on Hungarians, were unknown even in the 1956 Uprising. A cautious estimate is that up to four thousand people were shot into the Danube.

On 13 November, Veesenmayer reported to Berlin that around 27,000 Jews of both sexes, capable of walking and fit for work, had left the city on foot. He reckoned to be able to hand over a further forty thousand and would send them off in daily batches of two to four thousand. After that, it was estimated that a further 120,000 would be left in Budapest, and that their fate would be dependent on the availability of transport. Four days later, the Papal Nuncio protested about these death marches to Szálasi, who denied the atrocities, but promised to look into them. On 20 November, he stopped the deportation of women on foot. However, a group of displaced woman were already being led towards the Hungarian border with the Reich at Hegyeshalom, together with a group of Jewish military labourers. Raoul Wallenberg and Per Anger  prepared a memorandum for Baron Kemény, the Foreign Minister, on their visit to the this forced march on the Budapest-Hegyeshalom road on 23/24 November. They gave an objective yet shocking description of exhausted people reduced almost to a line of animals. When the Swedish Commission tried to distribute some of its own provision among them the crowd simply laid siege to them and fought just to get at the little packets of sandwiches. After that, the Embassy was repeatedly denied permission to send lorries to feed the people.




Wallenberg’s motorised life-saving was mentioned in the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961. The Swedish diplomats’ relief efforts had seriously irritated the SS commander, who had planned and organised the march. I’ll kill Wallenberg, this dog of the Jews, he was reported to have exclaimed, and had got the Foreign Ministry in Berlin to declare that the Swedish Embassy’s intervention in Jewish affairs is in all respects unlawful. Captain Gábor Alapy and Dr Iván Székely also performed very risky life-saving work. They helped to return groups of men with Swedish papers to Budapest, both from the marches and from distant workplaces and camps. However, sending back deportees unescorted was sometimes futile. Ferenc Weiss, who had been arrested in hiding, suffered imprisonment in the Csillag fortress at Komárom with a group of two hundred other Jews. Its members had been rescued by means of letters of protection from the Hegyeshalom road, but were then re-arrested by the Arrow Cross on their way back to Budapest. They were then sent by train to Dachau on 28 November.

At dawn on the same day, Hungarian military police with bayonets fixed appeared at the Jewish forced labourers’ barracks in Budapest and replaced the companies’ commanders. The MPs then escorted the companies of forced labourers, mostly two hundred strong, to be handed over to the SS at Ferencváros station. Raoul Wallenberg found out about this unexpected event, followed in his car and struggled all day to save those under Swedish protection. In total, over four hundred were saved from deportation. However, Wallenberg’s action were reported to the SD, and Theodor Dannecker, a fanatical member of Eichmann’s staff, threatened to have him killed. Meanwhile, the Arrow Cross continued their underground reign of terror. That same night, they hung the bodies of ten Jews who had been shot after interrogation under torture in the party house cellar, head downwards on the fence of the convent which had been hiding a dozen Jews and which had been recently visited by the Arrow Cross and subsequently by Wallenberg, saving its residents. At their trial twelve years later the armed party servicemen admitted to between a thousand and twelve hundred murders.

The Cardinal Primate of Hungary, Archbishop Serédi of Esztergom, a member of the upper house of parliament, repeatedly protested to Szálasi about the terror and the constant acts of cruelty. On 1 December he raised his objection to the taking of hostages and to the atrocities on Jewish citizens. His intervention was futile. While the violence raged unchecked, Gábor Vajna, Minister for the Interior, called on Himmler in Berlin on 10 December. Himmler urged him on to even harsher measures. Vajna gave a detailed account of the solution to the Jewish question in Hungary. He drew up a list of the remaining Jews. According to this there were:

Approximately 120,000 Jews in the (central) ghetto.

18,000 in the foreign ghetto.

There were still protected Jews,…

Jews in hiding in the provinces, number unknown.

Jews granted exemption, approximately 1,000.

Half- and quarter- Jews, numbers unknown.

Seventy-eight Jewish labour companies, each 200 strong, were on their way to the Reich.

The Szálasi government was, Vajna confirmed, working towards the total removal of Jews from Hungary. At his trial, Vajna lied that, in Berlin, he had discussed the transportation of Jews with letters of protection to Sweden and Switzerland. He tried to claim that the Hungarian Jews could be grateful that he would not let the Germans take them out of the country. By this stage, protection from the Swedish Embassy was, in any case, little more than a thread of hope. The protected houses provided only a relatively safe refuge, depending largely on the movements and whims of the Arrow Cross. Back in Budapest on 10 December, Szálasi ordered certain streets in Budapest to be designated as a Jewish ghetto. This quarter, marked off by wooden barricades, covered less than a third of a square kilometre of the two hundred covered by the capital. Its gates were guarded by uniformed police and armed Arrow Cross. Until it was liberated by Soviet troops on 18 January 1945, this small area housed the remaining Jews in 243 apartment blocks, many crammed together in cellars and wood-stores. On 8 January, they numbered just under 63,000, about a tenth of whom were children.

The whereabouts of the children of the Swedish Red Cross home and its official, Ferenc Schiller, were what concerned Wallenberg and Anger as they set off by car at mid-day on 23rd, with Vilmos Langfelder, the Swedish-protected engineer. The following day there was an Arrow Cross raid on the Swedish mission. The same day, a Sunday, they also attacked the Jewish boys and girls orphanage, the children’s refuge. The International Red Cross and the sign indicating protection meant nothing to them. They plundered it on the pretext of an identity check. Several, including children, were shot on the spot by way of intimidation. The desperate Jewish manager ran down the road with a Christmas tree on his shoulder, in order to inform Wallenberg. Some of the children who had been turned out of the orphanage were shot by the Arrow Cross the next day on the Danube embankment. By now they were having to conserve ammunition, and so they stood several children one behind the other and butchered them in that way. Several of them who were not hit or who jumped into the river before being shot, swam down to the bank by the Houses of Parliament and survived to tell the tale. On Christmas Eve, 1944, the Hungarian capital was completely surrounded by Soviet forces. On Christmas Day, the Arrow Cross in Buda attacked the Finnish and Swedish embassies. They were accompanied by a mob who robbed and destroyed the properties. On the 28th, one of the German embassy staff who had been sent to Szombathely telegraphed Berlin with an account of the capture of the Danube bend at Esztergom by the Red Army, and of the encirclement of the capital.

7. The Final Horrors:

With the encirclement, the Arrow Cross became even more terroristic in their methods. On New Year’s Day they attacked the homes of the Swedish embassy staff, including that of the Langfelder-Simon family. A week later, they attacked another of the safe houses, paying no attention to its status. They clearly meant to force the Swedish activists out of Budapest. In the raid some two hundred people were forced out onto the street. The women and children were escorted to the ghetto and crammed into an apartment house. Some of the men were tortured and shot on the way in the streets and squares or on the Danube embankment. The Arrow Cross also attacked the Swedish embassy’s offices in Pest. On 13 January the front line reached the middle of Andrássy út and the parallel boulevard into the city, Benczúr utca. Three days later the quarter where the protected houses were located was liberated, and on 18 January the Soviet forces reached the Károly körut at the end of the central ghetto. They demolished the wooden gates and the palisades in several places. Outside the Dohány utca synagogue, heaps of corpses lay in the street, frozen hard. Burials began at once in the synagogue gardens, where the victims lie to this day:

A total of 2,281 bodies were buried in twenty-four common graves; forty-five had been shot – twenty-four women and twenty-one men. The great majority had been dead for weeks and very many were totally naked, so that a very large number were unidentifiable… A large proportion of the dead were elderly… Lack of vehicles made the burial more difficult, as did the frozen ground and the horror and revulsion of the people.

With Raoul Wallenberg’s departure for Debrecen two days earlier, the Swedish humanitarian action was considered finished. Four thousand had been provided with Swedish documents, the number of Hungarian colleagues stood at two hundred, with a further four hundred family. Two and a half thousand people had been supplied with Swedish Red Cross letters of protection. On 27 January, the executive committee of the Swedish humanitarian action declared that persons of Jewish origin were no longer at risk, but were citizens with full rights. By 9 February there were two to three thousand police officers already in a prison camp at Gödöllő. Many of these, the first to report for duty, were, ironically, among the most anti-German, but they were interrogated for days about matters of which they knew little or nothing.

However, it was not until 13 February that the siege finally ended, the Szálasi government persisting to the end in its alignment with Hitler, leading to the downfall and devastation of Hungary. Only a single, spontaneously rallied outfit, the Buda Voluntary Regiment, could be observed taking part on the anti-Nazi side in the final battles for Budapest.


At the beginning of February, the Interior Ministry had ordered the collection of and internment of Romani families. In the village of Keléd the gendarmerie created a transit camp, using the coffee factory at Nagykanizsa. Another transit camp for the Roma from Zala was created near the Croatian villages of Draskovecz and Csáktornya. With the military front now approaching, many of the interned Roma were exterminated. Some were sent home, but others were taken to the internment camp at Kőszeg and from there, together with the Roma from Vas County, they were deported to concentration camps in Germany. On 23 February, Vajna declared:

I have started the full and, if needed, severe settlement of the Jew and the Gypsy problems.

Besides taking them to the internment and concentration camps, the gendarmes killed many of the Roma in their own homes. This went on well into February and at the end of the month about a hundred and fifty were shot dead by the Arrow Cross near Válpalota, a hundred and fifteen in a single mass execution in the nearby wood.


The number of Jewish victims of the Hungarian Holocaust has been well-documented. The number of Roma victims is not so well-known. In the 1950s, the total number across Europe was estimated at fifty thousand. In the 1970s this was revised to 28,000 as an official statistic. László Karsai’s work, published in 1992, estimated that there were five thousand Roma victims from Hungary itself, but he also stated that the records were imperfect and that the Gypsies from the Reich lands, including the Hungarian-speakers from Burgenland had not been processed.

8. Sources:

005 (2)

Szabolcs Szita (2012), The Power of Humanity: Raoul Wallenberg and his Aides in Budapest. Budapest: Corvina.

János Bársony (2001), Roma Holocaust: Recollections of Survivors. Budapest: Roma Sajtóközpont Könyvek.

Andrew J Chandler (2013), As the Earth Remembers Them: Village Voices & The Hungarian Holocaust.            



Posted February 16, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

What lies beneath… Hungary’s shameful denial of its Holocaust?   Leave a comment

I was given a desk diary by one of the Hungarian schools I work in last August. I was grateful for this, as I sometimes find it difficult to find a school year diary, and also have difficulty keeping up with all the national days and commemorations which interrupt the teaching year. After eight years teaching here, albeit in three spells since 1990, I am just about coming to terms with most of these, but still sometimes find myself planning a week’s English language teaching only to find the day before that there’s a two-hour commemoration ceremony which cancels a series of lessons in the middle of the day. The latest example of this was the Hungarian Culture Day commemorating the birthday of the National Anthem on the 22nd January. So, I was really grateful to note that ‘Holocaust Memorial Day’ was also listed in the diary. Since teaching in France for a year ten years ago now, I have always planned special days for this day, on the 27th January. I have to be sensitive about this, because I am a history teacher as well as an English teacher, but in France every lesson on that day had, by law, to have some connection with the Holocaust, whether arts, language, science or humanities. In any case, I always hated it in Britain when schools handed over the responsibility for Remembrance Day assemblies to the history department. The act of remembering war is a matter for everyone on an equal basis, I argued, whereas the task of historian is to chronicle, narrate and interpret wars alongside other past events. When a French student asked me why we had to listen to the painful testimony of Spielberg’s witnesses of the Shoah, I gave two answers. “Because it is a requirement of your government that we remember, and neither you, your parents, nor I have any memory of these events” and “because we all need to decide for ourselves how significant these events were in the last century and this one. If we don’t read or hear the first-hand evidence, how can we decide?” I’m not sure that she agreed with either reason, but that was not the point. The point was that this was, as a French citizen, even more of an obligation on her than it was on me. To be fair, she raised her objection properly with me in cameo at the end of the lesson. Had she protested at the beginning or middle, I could not have sent her out unless she reported sick. Otherwise, I would have been breaking French law.

In the 1990s, after the fall of ‘Goulash Communism’ and the end of the Warsaw Pact, I came to understand why people were still reluctant to talk about the Holocaust, though some, like the villagers in Apostag, were keen to have their stories recorded, a process which I finally completed last year. However, I was surprised to find, when I returned to teach here in 2011-12 that nothing was done to mark HMD in either the Reformed Church School I taught in, or in my current school. Indeed, when I dealt with the topic as part of the exam topic theme of ‘national days, celebrations and commemorations’, I encountered what I can only describe as thinly-veiled hostility. This has not been the case in my current Catholic School, where I showed the staff the materials about Vali Rácz, a Catholic who hid the Jews. This led to an interesting discussion (in Hungarian as well as English) about both the events of 1944/45 and the reason why HMD is not marked in Hungarian schools. This year, apparently, there is an official state commemoration of the seventieth anniversary of ‘the German Occupation’ which began on 19th March 1944. There is to be a new museum opened in Budapest, apparently, and schools will be encouraged to take pupils to this. I felt reassured and encouraged by this, as I, like many Hungarians, had been feeling dismayed at the insidious rehabilitation of proven anti-Semites and fascist collaborators like Admiral Horthy, Hungary’s Regent at the time, a statue to whom has recently been unveiled by a Reformed Church in Budapest. However, when I the read the following articles in The Budapest Sun yesterday I became even more depressed about the Hungarian political and religious leadership’s apparent continued denial of their roles in the deportation of Jews and Gypsies. I have already written about how the country became gradually anti-Semitic and then openly fascist in the period 1936-44, and about the enthusiastic mass participation of the Hungarian Gendarmerie and Army in the deportations from the countryside in the Spring and Summer of 1944, while Horthy and his cohorts were still in control. I, and others, have also continually published the evidence of the Hungarian government’s knowledge of and collaboration with the plan and orders of Adolf Eichmann, together with the national leaderships of the Reformed, Lutheran and Catholic Churches.

When I point these facts out, many Hungarians refer to ‘difficult times, difficult decisions.’ I point out that it is not my role, as a historian, to judge people, especially those no longer living, and that, as a British historian, I am mindful of the difference between the war-time experience of Hungary and that of Britain. However, I am also mindful of the difference between the way that the black-shirts were dealt with in Britain in 1936, by having their uniformed marching banned, and the way they were encouraged by the introduction of anti-Semitic measures under the Horthy regime both in the late thirties, but also from as early as 1920, when fascist activity in Germany was limited to two quite insignificant putsches. Encouraged by the ‘opinion’ article published by an American academic in Budapest, I feel it is high time for me to lose my traditional reserve. After all, the Holocaust was an international event, but one in which could not have happened to the Hungarian Jews and Roma without the willing preparation and participation of the Hungarian state and churches, just as so many of the Hungarian Jews in Budapest were also saved by the brave actions of their fellow citizens, whether acting out of true patriotism, religious belief or simple humanity.

Here are yesterday’s articles. After you read them, it may be that you will want to consider the author’s call, whether living in Hungary or elsewhere, to boycott a ‘commemoration’ which is at least meaningless and at worst both amoral and ahistorical, especially when black-shirted fascists are again being permitted to march through the capital parading their support for the Nazi ‘heroes’ of the Battle of Budapest of 1944/45.     

Human Resources Minister Zoltán Balog has expressed regret over the decision of Hungary’s major Jewish association not to participate in the government’s Holocaust 2014 programmes until further notice. “I regret that they have made this decision and that the case had progressed in this direction since the first minute,” Balog told state news agency MTI. The Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (‘Mazsihisz’) said on Sunday that it would only take part in the official Holocaust Memorial Year programmes if the government stops plans to erect a monument to the victims of the 1944 German occupation, along with two other conditions. Balog said all the three issues raised by ‘Mazsihisz’ deserve attention but refusing to conduct a dialogue reflects short-term thinking. “If we do nothing else but turn our back to one another, the situation will not change in the future either,” he said. Hungary’s official position had remained unchanged since 1990, the minister said. The Hungarian state had played an unquestionable role in the deportation and annihilation of Hungarian Jews, and the German state had an unquestionable role too. Responsibility could not be divided. Balog reiterated that the government is not planning to erect a monument to the Nazi occupation but to the victims of it.


Why everyone should boycott official 2014 Holocaust commemorations

Imagine the White House chief of staff stating the following at a press conference after a significant meeting about a highly controversial issue with the leading representatives of American Jewry: “The President will address all of our fellow Americans as well as our Jewish citizens next week.” It does not take a lot of imagination to envision the firestorm of criticism that would follow such a division of the American people into real Americans versus Jewish citizens of America.

David Mandler, Ph.D.

Yet, this is precisely what János Lázár, the Minister of State for the Prime Minister’s office, said after the unsuccessful round-table meeting with leading Hungarian Jewish organisations. Of course, he was not talking about fellow Americans but rather “fellow Hungarian countrymen” and “our Jewish citizens”. Perhaps at other times this statement would have drawn more fire from liberal Hungarians and Hungarian Jews alike. At this time, though, Hungarian Jews are, in a sense, too focused on the trees to notice the forest. The largest Jewish organisation, ‘Mazsihisz’, in the past few weeks has been on a collision course with the government. On Sunday ‘Mazsihisz’ identified three major issues with which the Hungarian government needs to deal in a satisfactory way for it to reconsider its decision to boycott the official commemorative events in 2014 scheduled for the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary. One may argue that the comparison between Americans and Hungarians does not work since the American people is a rather recent construct that designates a group of individuals whose coherence is not determined along ethnic lines. That argument, however, also applies to the Hungarian nation since it, too, is not only an amalgamation of various ethnic groups tied together by history, cultural affiliations and language but is also a constitutively heterogeneous nation. The history of Hungary shows that any ethnic group that wished to become absorbed into the body of the nation could do so. The patriotic Hungarian Jews in the middle of the 19th century believed it was no different for them. And indeed, the endeavours of Jews in Hungary for the past 150 years to acculturate within Hungary began to bear very significant fruits from the time Hungarian Jews committed themselves on the side of the Hungarians against the Austrians in the abortive Revolution and War of Independence of 1848-1849. Once the law removed all legal obstacles from Jewish Hungarians with the passing of the 1867 Jewish Emancipation Law, Hungarianisation of Jews accelerated at a remarkable pace. An increasing number of Jews in Hungary began to think of themselves and carried on their lives as Hungarians with their Jewish cultural affiliations either remaining intact or shrinking rapidly. 

The ascendancy of Jews in all areas of Hungarian culture occasioned a severe backlash with Admiral Miklós Horthy’s assumption of power in 1920. The first anti-Jewish measures in all of Europe were passed in Hungary in the same year Horthy took power. The Numerus Clausus law, a sort of reverse affirmative action law, greatly limited the number of Jewish students eligible for university admissions. From that moment on, the Jewish citizens of Hungary must have known that they were not considered as part of the Hungarian nation. The periodic eruptions of anti-Jewish riots in universities in the 1920s and 1930s constituted another painful reminder that Hungarian Jews were not welcome in the universities. In 1938-39, further anti-Jewish laws were passed that limited the number of Jews allowed in various intellectual professions. These measures were taken because Hungarians of Jewish descent had become “too successful” in Hungary in all cultural and professional areas and had to be restrained. Jewish success was also Hungarian success. Hungarian Jews came up with amazing inventions, achieved Olympic victories, expanded industrial output and furthered intellectual work to the benefit of the entire nation. Yet, to the anti-Semite, a Jew remained a Jew no matter his or her acculturated appearance and estrangement from all things Jewish. 

Nothing prepared Hungarian Jews for the horror that would befall them toward the end of the Second World War. The most tragic period for Hungarian Jews came in summer 1944 when Jewish life outside Budapest came to an abrupt end with mass deportations and the systematic murder of an estimated 437,000 Hungarian Jews in eight weeks. In Budapest itself, derisively called Judapest at the turn of the century for its large number of Jewish residents, Jews were herded into a large ghetto or went into hiding with false papers (many of whom, in a figurative if not literal sense, stayed in hiding as a Jew forever). That large numbers of Jews in Budapest could pass for non-Jews with the help of a piece of paper is elo-quent testimony of the success of Hungarian Jewish acculturation.The significant role of the regent of Hungary, Miklós Horthy, in allowing mass deportations from all of Hungary is clear to historians and Hungarian Jews. It is precisely the current Hungarian government’s attempt to re-evaluate and whitewash the Horthy regime with the proposed erection of a statue commemorating the 70th anniversary of the German occupation of Hungary that has unified the otherwise very fragmented Jewish Hungarian part of the Hungarian people to an unprecedented extent. Many in Hungary remember the rather placid and ineffective role Jewish organisations played in the face of increasing pressure just before and during the Holocaust. Although the facts are not as clear, the popular perception among many Jews today is that the Jewish council in 1944 collaborated with the authorities and, thereby, made the situation for the Jews much worse.

So, the decision not to go along with the Hungarian government’s expectations of Jewish collaboration in the 70th anniversary’s commemorations constitutes a watershed moment in Hungarian Jewish history. It is incumbent upon everyone to support this extraordinary self-assertion by the official representatives of Hungarian Jewry by urging everyone involved to follow suit and boycott all official government-sponsored commemorations of the Holocaust in 2014. That means every international dignitary, speaker or guest invited by the Orbán government to participate should now express solidarity with the survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants in Hungary who have made the difficult but morally correct decision to boycott these events. Yet, complete non-action would serve no purpose. I believe that all people of goodwill, whether inside or outside of Hungary, may now begin to contribute to conceiving and/or putting into action alternative modes of commemorations (both traditional as well as innovative ones) that would serve to educate people about what happens when age-old prejudices, greed, the active hatred of some and the callous indifference of the majority are combined, as happened in Hungary but 70 years ago, resulting in the gradual dispossession and large scale murder of more than half a million people classified as Jews in death camps and in the streets of Budapest. As far as Hungarian Jews are concerned, 2014 will not be a year of national reconciliation and forgiveness but rather the year in which even the most Hungarian of the Hungarian Jews will have to realise that they are still perceived as “our fellow Jewish citizens” rather than as “our fellow Hungarians”. 


David Mandler holds a Ph.D. in
English from New York University
and teaches English at Stuyvesant
High School in New York City. His latest
short story “The Loft” is available
through Read more from
him at


My next blogpost will focus on the events of 1944-45, following the deportations from the Hungarian countryside and the beginning of the period of Terror in Budapest under the Szalási government.



Posted February 15, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

Later Than They Thought… Britain in 1939: Part One; January – June.   Leave a comment



11 Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Liverpool 4-1 in the FA Cup, in front of 61,000 at Molineux (a club record attendance).

25  First Anderson shelters distributed in London.008

28  Britain recognised the Franco regime in Spain.


10  Sir Samuel Hoare announced his recovery from ill-health and made a speech expressing the view that a new era of peace and prosperity was about to begin.

14/15  German troops invaded Czechoslovakia, occupying Prague and annexing Bohemia and Moravia.

17   Neville Chamberlain made a speech in his home city of Birmingham.

22  Lithuania surrendered the former German city of Memel to Hitler, following an ultimatum.

23  Germany annexed Memel.

24  British guarantee given to Poland.

31  Chamberlain’s speech on Poland in the House of Commons.


1   Britain and France gave guarantees of protection to Poland.

3   Hitler instructed armed forces to be ready to attack Poland at any time after 1 September 1939.

5    Italian planes began bombing Albanian towns without warning; King Zog fled to the West.

7    Italy invaded and occupied Albania.

13  Britain and France gave guarantees to Greece and Romania.

16  Soviet Russia proposed alliance with Britain and France (negotiations continued until August).

26  British Call-up of all men 20 and 21 for military training announced.

28   Hitler repudiated German-Polish non-aggression pact of 1934 and Anglo-German Naval Agreement of June 1935.


22  German-Italian ten-year alliance; Pact of Steel.


30   The Danzig Crisis.

Significant cultural events:

Radio: First broadcast of ITMA (‘It’s That Man Again’)

Sport: Sir Malcolm Campbell achieved world water speed record of 141.74 mph.

Stage-show: The Dancing Years by Ivor Novello

Play: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Films: The Citadel with Robert Donat and Ralph Richardson, Pygmalion with Wendy Hillier, Wuthering Heights with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, Pinocchio by Walt Disney.

Popular Songs: Begin the Beguine, Run Rabbit Run, Wish me Luck as you Wave me Goodbye, We’ll Meet Again, There’ll Always Be an England.


Economy, Society, and Culture:

For many who viewed the Borough of Merthyr Tydfil from the outside in the early months of 1939, it did not seem economically viable. It still had 40% of its working population idle and was costing central government a pound per family per week. Some even went so far as to  advocate that the whole town should be abandoned and its population transported wholesale to the coast. The reaction of The Merthyr Express was that such a suggestion was ‘fantastic’ and the ‘arch-druid’ of the Valleys, Tom Jones, parodied this view by suggesting that the entire population of south Wales should be transferred out of the region so that the valleys could then be flooded, used as an industrial museum or serve as an ideal location for bombing practice.

However, by the outbreak of war the economy of the south Wales region was slowly being transformed, a process aided by the siting of Royal Ordnance factories at Bridgend and elsewhere. When the Royal Commission on the Distribution of the Population finally produced its Report at the end of  1939, it laid the foundations for a more planned and even distribution of population throughout Britain:

001A reasonable balance of industry and population throughout the country should be a main feature of national policy during the coming years. It is not in the national interest, economically, socially or strategically, that a quarter, or even a large proportion of the population of Great Britain should be concentrated within twenty to thirty miles or so of Central London.

On the other hand, a policy:

(i)   of balanced distribution of industry and the industrial population so far as possible throughout the different areas or regions in Great Britain.

(ii) by appropriate diversification of industries in those areas or regions;

would tend to make the best national use of resources of the country, and at the same time would go far to secure for each region or area… some safeguard against severe and persistent depression, such as attacks an area dependent mainly on one industry when that industry is struck by bad times.

Unemployed in Wigan, 1939

However, while such concepts had become well-established in government attitudes by 1939, it would be incorrect to assume that this change in emphasis brought about an immediate end to the policy of Industrial Transference. The ‘Special Areas’ continued to occupy a dominant place in British political discourse in the late 1930s, despite the overshadowing effect of the gathering storm clouds of international conflict. Rearmament was swallowing up more and more labour into shadow factories in England, and protests were still heard from some Welsh Nationalists, who compared the continuing operation of the Transference policy to Hitler’s swallowing up of the Czech lands, characterising it as just another Fascist way of murdering a small defenceless nation without going to war about it. Welsh MPs, civil servants and officials were denounced as collaborators. In reality, the official Transference scheme had long ceased to be effective by March 1939, and most of those leaving Wales were attracted to the English cities not just by the secure jobs in the shadow industries, but also by the high wages they could earn. In Coventry, at the beginning of 1939, earnings were two and a half old pence per hour over the national average for day work and four and a half pence over the average for piece work. With such high earnings available, workers did not need to be frog-marched out of the valleys. Added to this, a new economic base was being established in south Wales by this time, and many other natives were returning, possibly as many as one in five of those who had left in the previous decade. A General Review of the Industrial Transference Scheme conducted by the Ministry of Labour in 1938-9  found that a significant proportion of migrants had left Wales simply because they wanted a change and not with any intention of settling.


Overshadowing the problems of unemployment, transference and migration by the middle of the year, was the threat of war. From 1938, the government had already begun the distribution of thirty eight million gas masks to the civilian population. In an endeavour to persuade children to don the claustrophobic, rubber-smelling objects, an imaginative ‘Mickey-Mouse’ adaptation of the adult mask was designed, using red rubber for the face and blue for the eye-rims and nosepiece. The lesson of the fascist bombing of Guernica in 1937 was not entirely ignored by the Chamberlain government, despite their acquiescence in the fall of the Spanish Republic and their recognition of the Franco régime at the end of February. Cities were vulnerable to air bombardment and the civilian population would be a prime target of any Nazi attack. By the summer of 1939, the government had published plans for the evacuation of two million from London and the southern cities. As the threat of war grew in the summer months, evacuation began, and more than three and a half million people had been moved to safe areas by September, a full year before the Blitz on London began. The social effects on all sections of the community were traumatic. By comparison, the migration of labour from the depressed areas into the cities looked insignificant, though it still continued apace. There were still more than a million unemployed at the outbreak of war.


Billeting arrangements were often chaotic. One ten year old girl, exhausted and travel-dirty after a slow train journey to Stafford, recalled being driven from house to house, the billeting officer asking, ‘do you want an evacuee?’ When the residents were told ‘it’ was a girl, they declined, or remarked ‘How much?’ ‘Ten and six a week!’ Sarah Blackshaw, a cockney mum with a baby, recalled being left unchosen from a line of evacuees on the platform of Ipswich station as farmers took their pick as though selecting cattle, their first preference being for strong lads who would be of most help on the farm. Elsewhere, middle class families recoiled as billeting officers attempted to place poorly dressed and underfed kids into their genteel homes full of oak biscuit barrels and fretwork-cased radiograms. However, there were, happily,  many among them who took in and treated the city refugees as their own children and formed deep relationships which survived the war. The picture below shows schoolchildren from Walthamstow, London, on their way to Blackhorse Road Station for evacuation.





Due partly to the seasonal nature of much of their new employment in the Midlands, the adult immigrants’ links with their homeland were well-maintained through summer holidays. The Welsh in the Holbrooks area of Coventry each paid fifteen shillings and hired a bus between them every Easter and August Bank Holiday. At Whitsun 1939 the Coventry Evening Telegraph reported that the number of buses leaving Pool Meadow bus station for Wales was surprisingly large. One company had to use another’s vehicles to accommodate the extra bookings, several of these vehicles being brought in from Nuneaton. These holidays provided the opportunity for information about the quality of life in Coventry to be passed to those considering migration. In particular, those already involved in sporting teams, choirs and musical societies were keen that people ‘at home’ with talents should join them. Welsh members of the GEC (General Electric Company) Orchestra recruited members of the Cory Brothers’ Band and violinists who accompanied the silent pictures in Rhondda workmens’ halls. In these cases, musicianship became the main qualification needed to get a job at the GEC.

The Welsh migrants were also attracted to the chapels which hosted Welsh choirs and ‘Glee Parties’. These gave the immigrants a respectable image among their hosts. At Queens’ Road Baptist Church in Coventry, Rev Howard Ingli James, from Barry in south Wales, they also found an affirmation of the society and culture from which they had come. He continually referred to the miners in his sermons, and his unashamed championing of working class causes and politics sometimes brought him into conflict with the established professional Coventrians in the congregation:

Ingli James was a great preacher, very down to earth, and a pacifist. He was a strong Labour man and he upset quite a few people because he just said what he felt – he was true to himself, he would not say one thing and mean another, or say something to please people… I always remember once when he talked about the miners he said, ‘I had a load of coal and paid for it the other day – did I say Paid for it? No, never, when I think what those men had to go through to get the coal for me to enjoy – and then I say paid for it – no money would pay for what they did!’ I can see him now in that pulpit.

So powerful a projection of so positive an image from the pulpit had a solidifying effect on the growing Welsh community in Coventry, where Welsh working class culture was able to locate itself within a broad, dominant working class and immigrant culture in the city. Coventry was a working class city, in which miners and immigrants were not strangers. There were many Durham miners among them, with whom the the Welsh felt they shared common characteristics, and who were at the same level at work. However, relations with the management of the shadow factories were not always cordial. In July a strike broke out in the polishing shop of the Rootes shadow factory in Stoke Aldermoor over piecework and the operation of the ‘gang’ system. There were ‘further bickerings’ throughout the summer and autumn. Mr Booth of Rootes told the Employers’ Association that there was one particular trouble-making gang of forty-eight who were ‘almost entirely recruited from the distressed areas and have not even as much engineering knowledge as labourers in the shop’. When the gang refused to do certain jobs they were dismissed by the company. However, when an escalation of the dispute was threatened, the Company settled instead for breaking the gang up.

In Coventry, both engineers and their employers showed little interest in the general politics of the city; those engaged in the economic field were noticeably disengaged when it came to civic affairs. Trades unionists and left-wing activists built on the older syndicalist tradition in the factories, while leading employers, despite repeated appeals, refused involvement in local politics. In May 1939, The Midland Daily Telegraph pointed to what it described as:

…a most amazing reluctance on the part of leading citizens to offer themselves as candidates… The outlook seems to be like that of Artemus Ward, when invited to run for the American legislative. ‘My friends’, he said, ‘doestest think I’d stoop to that there?’…

Hence, unlike in neigbouring Birmingham, where the Chamberlains and Cadburys exerted considerable power and patronage, the domination of of the political life of Coventry was left up to a group largely comprised of small businessmen and professionals who called themselves ‘The Progressive Party’, a coalition of Conservatives and Liberals. Their loss of supremacy in the late 1930s was attributed by The Telegraph, to the rapid drift of population from the depressed areas which had introduced into the city a steady stream of left-wing supporters. Such adherents to the Socialist ’cause’ in the city, were characterised as importers of an alien ideology, disruptive of  Coventrian civic conventions. This, at least, was the view from the top, though The Telegraph claimed that there was ‘a general realisation’ that this was taking place.

In Oxford, there was more concern about the sexual morality of the migrants. It was said of Welsh men that they had loose morals and would marry a girl only after they had impregnated her. One researcher calculated that Welshmen in Oxford were 5% more likely to cause conception before marriage than they were in their home areas, whereas Oxford natives were 10% less likely to cause premarital conception. Welsh women were also accused of being ‘highly-sexed’ with one American writer observing that it was undoubtedly true that they were more feminine than their English cousins. They were certainly more content to accept the traditional roles as maidservants, housewives and mothers that most of them had known in the valleys, since both documentary and oral evidence suggests that very few of  them entered insurable employment in Oxford or Coventry before the war, and that those who did were nurses or elementary teachers. This was a marked difference with both immigrant women from Lancashire and local Oxonion women. However, Welsh females did not have larger families in Oxford than native Oxonions. The research conducted in 1939 showed that whilst the fertility of married migrants in Oxford differed little from that of the south Wales population, the fertility of both these groups was less than that of Oxford natives. The degree of concern over sexual morality shown by social service enquirers in Oxford is revealed by the following extract from an out-worker’s report to the Moral Welfare Committee, made shortly after the outbreak of war:

The “black-out”… constitutes a moral problem, especially when standards are relaxed by the excitement of war.  In time of war, moral standards are lowered, and a slackening of control and restraint is evident.

A more positive stereotype of the Welsh immigrants was applied to their abilities on the sports fields. In May 1939 a meeting was held at the Railway Hotel, Foleshill, Coventry, to discuss the formation of a Coventry Welsh Rugby Club. When it came into existence, the Club became the cradle for the City of Coventry Rugby Club and many of the latter’s post-war players were first nurtured by the Coventry Welsh Club.


The greatest Midland (and perhaps British) sporting team in 1939 was Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club. They finished second in the Football League in three successive seasons and were also beaten finalists in the 1939 FA Cup. It also had a newly-completed stadium, Molineux, which ranked alongside Anfield, Liverpool, and Villa Park, Birmingham, as one of the finest in Britain. Their legendary manager, Major Frank Buckley, had produced a team with a reputation for fast, attacking football. Match attendances rose with Wolves’ continuing success, culminating in the record attendance of 61,315 for the Cup-tie with Liverpool on 11 February, which Wolves won 4-1. Unfortunately, they also lost 4-1 in the final, to lowly Portsmouth, when, according to every knowledgeable pundit, all they had to do was turn up to claim the cup. The outbreak of war halted their run of success (it was to be another decade before they finished so high in the first division), which foreshadowed their ‘glory days’ of the fifties, in which they were crowned champions four times in six seasons.

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In 1938, MGM had made the film The Citadel, and it became one of the most popular films of 1939 (see above for the others). Several British critics thought that it was one of the best British films ever and comments were made about the emergence of Robert Donat as a Hollywood star and the way in which the film offered a real sense of London and south Wales. The writer of the novel, A.J. Cronin, was very keen for his story about the ideals and ambitions of a young doctor to be filmed. He could never have foreseen that the film would be so well made; there were some early location sequences which rooted the story in the south Wales that the documentary-makers had discovered, there was first-class acting from Donat, Richardson and Emlyn Williams, who had also contributed some authentic Welsh dialogue, and there was also a convincingly detailed denunciation of private medicine. Britain was ripe for a socially mature film, and its director, King Vidor, was well known in Hollywood for making social problem films: he was very much for the common man and very much against corporate interests.

The Citadel offered a fuller view of south Wales than any other previous feature film, but it was essentially using the area for its own purposes, which were largely determined by the demands of a melodramatic narrative.  There was no room in this for organised protest or trade unions, and the miners are depicted as stupidly allowing themselves to be held back by the Aberalaw Medical Aid Society, which was used to illustrate all the evils associated with any guild or syndicate of workers. At one point, the doctor’s wife comments, Did anyone ever try to help the people and the people not object?

Interpretation: How Militant were the Migrants?

Clearly, the immigrant workers in the Coventry factories had learnt quickly how to use traditional shop-floor organisation for their own ends and did not lack militancy in doing so. They were amenable to trade union organisaton, even though many of them may not have been members of trade unions in their ‘home’ areas. Trade unionism was so much a part of the culture of the communities from which they came that it is irrelevant to argue, as some historians have, that those who had not themselves experienced work in the mines or shipyards would therefore not have shown the same level of commitment to the concept of workplace solidarity. However, the retention and re-enactment of such traditions did depend, to some extent, on the potential for collective action in the new industrial context, and on the level of support and encouragement that the immigrant workers could expect from trade union officials. In Coventry, the gang system and the relatively well-organised nature of the trade unions on the shop floor provided the fertile ground in which these traditions could re-establish themselves. At the same time, the immigrants were becoming skilled engineers within comparatively short periods.

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In Cowley, Oxford, the Pressed Steel Factory had become known as the ‘Red Factory’ by 1939, because of the reputation of the TGWU’s 5/60 branch for militancy and unofficial action since its inception in the 1934 Strike, led by former ‘DA’ men. The growth of trade unionism there was the result of a combination of factors. Whilst the particular conditions which prevailed in the factory in the summer of 1934 acted as the catalyst, it would be wrong to see the establishment of effective trade unionism simply as a knee-jerk response. There is a significant body of evidence to support the view that the retention of a trade union ‘complex’ by the immigrant workers from the ‘Distressed Areas’ and its reinterpretation in the new industrial context through secret organisation followed by concerted action at the critical mom, was the vital long-term factor in the equation. Thus, the settled immigrant community which was contiguous to the works provided an important support system for the development of trade unionism within it. In fact, the small, unofficial and largely underground movement which grew gradually in Morris’s factories from 1935 to ’39 was largely the product of community struggles in Cowley through which a small group of immigrant workers came into contact with AEU members. However, it took war-time conditions to bring about the recognition of trade unions at Morris’s. Workers from the depressed areas, some of whom moved from Pressed Steel to Morris Radiators in the late thirties, helped to form the unofficial union cell which enabled this transition. The failure of the unions to gain any official recognition was partly due to William Morris’ anti-union stance. However, the American management at Pressed Steel was equally hostile to the unions and organisers continued to be victimised throughout the latter part of the decade. Nevertheless, the existence of a union at Pressed Steel for semi-skilled and unskilled workers meant that wages were more stable and generally better than at the Morris in early 1939. The latter paid mainly by piece work, and wages were subject to significant rate cuts at times. It was therefore difficult to earn more than two pounds per week, whereas a night shift worker at Pressed Steel could earn as much as five pounds. Most of the contemporary evidence confirms the view that the reason for the contrasting conditions was the fact that most of the Pressed Steel workers came from depressed areas, whereas the Oxonions at the Morris Works lacked the motivation to form a union, and were of ‘a different outlook’. The Pressed Steel workers were more ‘clannish’ because they had all suffered common experiences in the depression years, which helped to unite them in their ‘fight-back’.

There is thus a strong case to be made for the primacy of general social and cultural factors in the growth of trade unionism in Cowley, if not in Coventry; the sense of heritage and solidarity among immigrant workers provided a powerful motivation to organisation in the Pressed Steel, and infused a quiescent trade union movement with militancy. This is not to support the contemporary stereotype of the Welsh workers held by Oxonions, that they were ‘nearly all “Reds”, ‘ any more than they could be characterised in other towns as job-stealers and wage-cutters. Nevertheless, those who were thrust into the leadership of the trade union movement in the wider City of Oxford, soon found themselves in leading positions in left-wing politics too. Before the Nazi-Soviet Pact, this also meant that many of them were carrying two party cards, one for membership of the Labour Party, and another for the Communist Party.

International Events (Summary):


Although there were no major international events to record at the beginning of the year, Europe showed no signs of settling down in the early months of 1939. Justified or not, rumours of another German advance abounded. However, just six months after the Munich conference, it was again the situation in Czechoslovakia which held the headlines. By March  1939, Slovak separatists felt secure enough to break away from the rump of the Czech lands and proclaim an independent Slovakia under German protection. By the middle of the month, Hitler had marched his troops into what remained of the independent Czech lands, occupying Prague. Under its new name, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the remainder of the Czech lands as well as the Lithuanian port of Memel and its surrounds were absorbed into the German Reich. Poland seized Teschen and Hungary obtained parts of southern Slovakia and Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia, which had substantial Hungarian minorities and had belonged to its Crown lands before 1918.


Only Chamberlain seemed surprised by the swallowing up of the defenceless remains of Czechoslovakia and by the now obviously-established fact that Hitler could no longer be considered a man of his word.  Is this an attempt to dominate the world by force? Chamberlain asked. Britain and France had promised the Czech representatives that they would defend the remnants of their state. Now they said that no such guarantees could apply to a state which no longer existed. However, alerted at last by the occupation of non-German speaking territories to the real dangers posed by Germany, Britain and France pledged to defend Poland, Greece and Romania from similar Nazi aggression and embarked on a crash programme of military spending.

Political Reaction at Home:

By April Britain was prepared to fight, but was in a worse position to do so than it had been in the summer of 1938. The subjugation of Czechoslovakia had robbed the Allies of the Czech Army, consisting of twenty-one regular divisions, fifteen or sixteen second-line divisions of which had already been mobilised, and also their mountain fortress line, which in the days before and during the Munich meetings had required the deployment of thirty German divisions, the main strength of the mobile and fully-trained German Army. According to Generals Halder and Jodl, there were only thirteen German divisions, of which only five were composed of front-line troops, left in the West at the time of the Agreement. The Allies had suffered a loss of some thirty-five divisions in total, plus the Skoda works, the second most important arsenal in central Europe, the production of which was equivalent to the total British armament output between August 1938 and September 1939. For over a year, even before the outbreak of war, it was in enemy hands.

Harold Nicolson’s reaction was sharp. All of Chamberlain’s theories had ‘collapsed’, as far as he was concerned. What remains of his prestige? he asked. We do not know where they will strike next. Hitler was already master of central Europe, with further designs on eastern Europe and the Balkans. He would reduce us to the status of dependent parasites. He ridiculed the guarantee system that Chamberlain had set up, referring to the pacts of mutual assistance to Poland, Greece and Romania. For Nicolson, Russia provided the key to any remaining security. He advocated an ‘encirclement’ policy, an Anglo-French-Soviet front to rein in Germany, another name for the ‘Grand Alliance’ strategy advocated by Churchill. However, he doubted Chamberlain’s ability to carry it out, dependent as he was on his ‘kitchen cabinet’ – Simon, Hoare and Halifax – which inspired little faith in wider political circles.

After his Parliamentary success in the Munich debate, Nicolson’s interventions in the House of Commons had not attracted the same degree of interest. After the Prague coup he called again for a policy of encirclement, but his parliamentary appearances, although fluent in language, lacked sparkle, perhaps a measure of the weariness felt by many politicians staring at the almost certain prospect of war. All that summer the German pressure on Poland mounted steadily, terminating in the war crisis of August 1939. Eden’s group thought of initiating a press campaign to prevent another Munich over Danzig and the Polish Corridor, the focal points of German discontent and designs.

Of course, throughout these events, the USA remained peripheral. Harold Nicolson wrote in his diary on 14 June that Winston Churchill was horrified to hear that the American Ambassador in London, Jo Kennedy, thought that war was inevitable and we should be licked. This spurred him into an impromptu oration, in which he remarked:

It may..well be true that this country at the outset of this coming and to my friend almost inevitable war be exposed to dire peril and fierce ordeals. It may be true that steel and fire will rain down upon us day and night scattering death and destruction far and wide. It may be true that our sea-communications will be imperilled and our food supplies placed in jeopardy. Yet these trials and disasters…will but serve to steel the resolution of the British people and to enhance our will to victory.

Churchill was prophetically right in this. Already, the bad news of the Ides of March had seemed to put new steel into the British people. Pacifist attitudes and Popular Fronts were already beside the point. As René Cutforth later commented, they were like a man on the scaffold deciding to mount a ‘No More Hanging’ movement. The illusions of the Thirties gradually melted away, he went on, and there had been many. The last illusions to go were those about the power of the British Empire. Britain itself might just survive, but that was all. As if to underline that the whole world had gone mad, the news broke in August that the Soviet Russians had signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. Black-out practices were held and works of art were hidden in the caves of Derbyshire and the mine shafts of south Wales. The collieries, for so long idle, at last found a useful purpose, though the wheels were also soon turning again to meet the real needs of war. Stained glass was evacuated from Canterbury and other cathedrals and children were evacuated from all the great cities.

Is War Inevitable? Harold Nicolson asked in a Penguin pamphlet that same month. The only hope for peace, he wrote, is to convince the Axis Powers by a tremendous military and diplomatic effort (I should almost call it an offensive) that we are determined on resistance; and at the same time to issue a manifesto of peace terms comparable to the Fourteen Points of President Wilson as will indicate to the world that we are definitely prepared to meet all reasonable aspirations. However, he knew that it was doubtful whether such a strategy would work, as it depended on a fanatical fűhrer with a superhuman capacity for hatred. Yet, he pondered for his readers, war might be almost inevitable, but while there might be a tiny window of hope it was worth looking out of it.


A. The Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, speaking at Birmingham, 17th  March 1939:

….Nothing that we could have done, nothing that France would have done, or Russia could have done could possibly have saved Czechoslovakia from invasion and destruction. Even if we had subsequently gone to war to punish Germany for her actions, and if after frightful losses which would have been inflicted upon all partakers in the war we had been victorious in the end, never could we have reconstructed Czechoslovakia as she was framed by the Treaty of Versailles.

When I came back after my second visit I told the House of Commons of a conversation I had had with Herr Hitler, of which I said that, speaking with great earnestness, he repeated what he had already said at Berchtesgaden – namely, that this was the last of his territorial ambitions in Europe, and that he had no wish to include in the Reich people of other races than German… 

How can these events this week be reconciled with those assurances which I have read out to you? Surely, as a joint signatory of the Munich Agreement, I was entitled…to that consultation which is provided for in the Munich declaration… Before even the Czech President was received, and confronted with demands which he had no power to resist, the German troops were on the move and within a few hours they were in the Czech capital.

According to the Proclamation which was read out in Prague yesterday, Bohemia and Moravia have been annexed to the German Reich. Non-German inhabitants, who, of course, include the Czechs, are placed under the German Protectorate. They are to be subject to the political, military and economic needs of the Reich.

…the events which have taken place this week in complete disregard of the principles laid down by the German Government itself… must cause us all to be asking ourselves, ‘Is this the end of an old adventure, or the beginning of a new?’

I feel bound to repeat that, while I am not prepared to engage this country by new unspecified commitments operating under conditions which cannot now be foreseen, yet no greater mistake could be made than to suppose that, because it believes war to be a senseless and cruel thing, that this nation has lost its fibre that it will not take part in resisting such a challenge if ever it were made.

B. Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons (fifth series), vol 345 col 2421 (1939):

31st March 1939: The Prime Minister, Mr Neville Chamberlain’s statement on Polish-German Relations:

The Right Hon. Gentleman, the leader of the Opposition asked me this morning whether I could make a statement as to the European situation… His Majesty’s Government has no official confirmation of the rumours of any projected attack on Poland… in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence, and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist with their national forces, His Majesty’s Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power. They have given the Polish Government assurance to this effect… the French Government… stand in the same position in this matter as do His Majesty’s Government.

C. Telegraphic: British Consul in Danzig, Mr G Shepherd, to Viscount Halifax:

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30th June 1939:

… For the last few nights the two great shipyards here which normally work all night were closed under strict guard and all workmen evacuated from them.

… As from tonight Danzig and suburbs were to be blacked out until further notice, and, in case of air raid alarm, all inhabitants were ordered to take refuge in the cellars or public shelters.

… Former local barracks are now occupied by large numbers of young men with obvious military training who wear uniforms similar to Danzig SS but without deathshead emblem on the right collar and ‘Heimwehr Danzig’ on sleeves. Courtyard is occupied by about fifteen military motor lorries (some with trailers) with East Prussia licences and covered with Tarpaulins, also by about forty field kitchens.

… My personal impression is that the extensive military preparations which are being pressed forward so feverishly are part of large-scale operations but not intended for use before August, unless unexpected developments precipitate matters and that emergency measures… may be due to fear lest those preparations should cause the Poles to substitute a sudden offensive for defensive measures which they have hitherto adopted.


Chandler, A.J. (1988), The Re-Making of a Working Class: Migration from the South Wales Coalfield to the New Industry Areas of the Midlands, c 1920-40. Cardiff: Unpublished PhD thesis.

Cutforth, René ( 1976), Later Than We Thought: A Portrait of the Thirties. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.

Smith, Dai (1984), Wales! Wales? London: George Allen & Unwin.

Almond, Bereznay & Black (et. al)(2003), The Times History of Europe. London: Times Books (HarperCollins).

Briggs, Morrill (, ed.) (2001), The Penguin Atlas of British & Irish History. London: Penguin Books.

Marwick, A. & Adamthwaite, A. (1973), Between Two Wars. Bletchley: The Open University.

Overy, R. (1996), The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Third Reich. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Gorman, J. (1980), To Build Jerusalem: A Photographic Remembrance of British Working Class Life, 1875-1950. London: Scorpion.

Shipley, J. (2003), Wolves Against the World. Stroud: Tempus.

Clark, M. & Teed, P. (eds.)(1972), Portraits and Documents: The Twentieth Century, 1906-1960. London: Hutchinson Educational.

Rose, N. (2006), Harold Nicolson. London: Pimlico.

Peter Stead (1986), Wales in the Movies, in Wales: The Imagined Nation; Studies in Cultural and National Identity. Cardiff: Poetry of Wales Press.

Posted February 11, 2014 by AngloMagyarMedia in Uncategorized

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